Paul Andrew Biggers married Cora Finger, half-sister of my maternal grandfather, C. B. Whitworth. He was a schoolteacher in Gastonia, North Carolina. Paul and Cora raised seven children, including famed artist John Thomas Biggers.  

Elisha (above) and Eligah Brooks were twins born in 1863 in Crowders Mountain, the 13th and 14th children of Jerry and Eliza Brooks.  It is believed Eliza died during or shortly after childbirth, though no records have been found. Jerry was listed as a sixty year-old widower with four sons, including the twins and my great-grandfather, William Isaac,  in the 1870 census. Elisha’s 2nd marriage produced eleven children. He was a farmer all his life and died  in a white hospital in Gastonia after being thrown from his horse when it was startled by an automobile. His death certificate has never been found.  Perhaps it had something to do with his mistakenly being taken to the wrong hospital. When his darker family members arrived, the staff realized the mistake, but his condition was too critical for him to be moved. Ironically, his grand-nephew, Glendell Nolan Brooks, became mayor of Gastonia in the 1980’s.

Jim Crow and White Supremacy: Jim Crow refers to 19th century laws passed in the South to restore the white supremacist social order temporarily lost with the freeing of the slaves. Many such laws were passed, placing restrictions on black freedoms in any way whites saw fit, under penalty of fines and imprisonment. Segregated public facilities, race-mixing and loitering were favorite targets. Probably the cruelest examples were vagrancy laws leading time in jail when defendants could not afford to pay the fines. A common practice throughout the south was to lease such jailed black men to private businesses for a daily rental fee paid to the state.  In effect, this was rental slavery. The practice, convict leasing, was so widespread that it constituted the bulk of revenue for most southern states including Virginia and North Carolina.  Like former slaveowners, companies leasing the convicts, who were almost exclusively black, had no accountability to the state for the well-being of their full-time, rental slaves. Prisoners were ill-fed, over-worked and denied medical treatment at the whim of the lessor. Often, when they died from accidents, neglect or brutality, they simply were buried in unmarked graves while the order went out to the town sheriff for a replacement.

George Sears, my 2nd great -grandfather, not to be confused with Uncle Remus, lived in slavery for over thirty years before gaining freedom in Appomattox, Virginia. He and his wife, Lucy Patterson, sister of Cornelius Patterson at right, had five children born in slavery and five born afterwards, including my father’s maternal grandfather, Thomas Edward Sears, after whom I was named. George is my only 2nd great-grandparent known to have a surviving photograph.

Camelot - 1870

Lucy Bocock was a favored slave of the family of Thomas Bocock, Virginia congressman and Speaker of the Confederate House of Representatives during the Civil War. At the death of her slave parents from unknown causes, the Bococks took Lucy in the big house as ‘companion’ to their young daughter. When freed, she continued to work for the Bocock family for a salary. After the war, Patterson folklore had her marriage to Cornelius Patterson, brother of my 2nd great-grandmother, Lucy Patterson Sears, taking place in the parlor of the Bocock home. Originally, it was believed to have been the Bocock’s war-time home still standing on National Park Service grounds next to the McLean House where Lee surrendered to Grant. However, records show the marriage took place in 1876 in Lynchburg, probably in the parlor of the home the Bococks moved to after the war.

Ex-slave Cornelius Patterson married Lucy Bocock in Lynchburg in 1876. They had fifteen children though not all reached adulthood. Many of the Pattersons moved to Baltimore to find work at the Sparrows Point Steel Mill, including Bettie Ann Patterson Flood,  mother of one of my father’s favorite cousins, Pete Flood.   Cornelius and Lucy lived in Appomattox all their lives and are buried there.  I can recall visiting there as a youth since it was a stop on the  route between our home in Portsmouth and our grandparents’ home in Roanoke. Appomattox was the “Old Home Place” for several different branches of the family - Sears, Coleman and Patterson. However, I never knew which one we were visiting.

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