Our Brooks family heritage reveals free African-
The Brooks saga began in Baltimore, Maryland around 1787, when Irish indentured
servant, Elizabeth Brooks, bore a mulatto child named Sarah out of wedlock. As a
consequence, Elizabeth was jailed for the crime of bastardy. Subsequently her African-
Another holy grail is solving the mysteries surrounding Sarah's oldest son Jerry,
There was blacksmith Nathaniel Brooks, younger brother of Jerry and Winnie, who also had a remarkable impact on his community and Caucasian neighbors. It is clear that he had a lifelong personal and professional relationship with Big John Lattimore, the wealthiest landowner and largest slaveowner in the area. Lattimore descendents today believe that Nathaniel fashioned the metalworks for John’s home built around 1832; it still stands today with many original materials including door hasps and hinges. Big John even sold three hundred acres of land to Nathaniel in 1854 that, I believe, contained the cabins and fields of the Brooks children’s youth. That said, it surely implies that Big John Lattimore was and/or his father Daneil Lattimore were Sarah’s landlord and possible employer that I mentioned above. One curious aspect of the 1854 deed of sale to Nathaniel was the signatures of Joseph and Daniel Dobbins Lattimore. Were they Big John’s brothers or his sons named after them? Even they would have still ben teenagers in 1854, I am certain they were Big John’s son. The record clearly shows that John inherited all of his father’s land and that his brothers had no stake. It was his teenage sons that had interest in his land, and whose blessings he surely would have sought. The only significance of these remarks is to point out the closeness of the bonds between the slaveowning Lattimores and the free Brooks. The teenagers presumed to have signed the subject deed to Nathaniel are the same ones who joined the confederate army years later along with Nathaniel’s nephews, Milford and Daniel. For all the reasons above, I am convinced that this Lattimore family may have owned the Brooks children’s slave father in addition to being the landlord and employer of his mother, Sarah. While there is only circumstancial evidence, it makes perfect sense. Put another way, while it is possible that the slave father lived elsewhere, it is reasonable to assume that the Brooks children, as adults, would have remained close the family, slaveowning or otherwise, that they surely bonded with in their youth. There was a reason the Lattimores and Brooks had so much respect for each other, despite the former being white slaveowners and the latter being black freemen. That simply had to be the kindness and consideration shown for the slave father, the support for mother Sarah and her five children or both.
And there was Daniel Brooks, Winnie’s son, who despite being free, was forbidden
by law from learning to read and write like his white friends living in the Duncans
Creek area of Cleveland County. On learning of those cruel restrictions around 1846,
one or more of his Ledford playmates bravely and successfully conspired to teach
Daniel to read and write by meeting with him secretly and regularly. Either William
or Isaac Ledford, each a few years older than Daniel, probably never realized the
significance of that mentoring of young Daniel. He eventually made the most of that
gift by learning the Gospel and becoming a renowned North Carolina Methodist minister,
founding a High Point church and becoming a Bennett College trustee before his death
Today, Brooks Chapel Methodist Church, founded in 1869 on a five-
Not far away from Brooks Chapel Cemetery is the Lattimore Cemetery on Five Points
Road containing the remains of the Lattimore neighbors and friends of the Brooks.
The tombstones reveal that, brothers Big John, Joseph and Daniel remain in perpetual
slumber. One must wonder whether it also contains the unmarked grave of Sarah Brooks,
that little orphaned mulatto bond-
A few miles away, southwest of the Lattimore Cemetery, is the Elliott Cemetery
containing the final resting places of slaveowners John and Mary Donoho Elliott.
Widow Elliott not only tolerated the relationship between the slave, John Donoho,
she owned for almost sixty years and Winnie Brooks, but may even have encouraged
it. Could she have played the exact same role for Sarah’s mother and slave father,
sponsoring not one, but two such slave-
There is much more to be told of this Brooks heritage such as producing black tennis idol, Arthur Ashe who, like myself, is a direct descendent of Sarah Brooks. However, I limit this summary to sharing the ancestral bonds and mutual respect between the Brooks and their white neighbors in hopes that their researchers will contribute to my quest for "holy grails" identified above. If it is not already apparent, there are two additional oddities of my Brooks ancestry. The first is that three successive generations of Brooks mothers, Elizabeth, Sarah and Winnie passed their surnames on to their children. Though the latter two were “technically” and “legally” married with slaveowner permission, their legitimate husbands had no legal surname to give their offspring. The second, perhaps even more surprising, observation is that despite generations of mulatto blood and very light skin coloring, there is neither history nor claim of Brooks women bearing children by white fathers, either slaveowner or otherwise. In short, the Brooks were always free, collaborative and entreprenual despite having slave blood in their veins and slaveowners as neighbors and friends. That spirit of independence and accountability remains in the bloodline to this day.