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Posted on July 1, 2021 at 3:02 PM by Melissa Dalton
Just a couple of weeks ago, our Federal government established Juneteenth as a Federal holiday. Juneteenth is a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. This holiday has been celebrated by African Americans since the 1800s, and has been gaining support all over the country for the last several years. This holiday provides an opportunity for reflection on how enslavement and lack of rights has affected the lives of millions in our nation. Today, we share a story of an African American torn from his family due to slavery, and his enduring commitment to find his long lost family members.
Milton Washington was born into slavery around 1848 in Boone County, Kentucky. His parents, Nat and Millie Woods, were sold while he and his sister, Anna, were young, and they lost all contact. After the Emancipation Proclamation allowed African Americans to enlist to fight with the Union Army, Milton was recruited. The enlistment record provides a great deal of information, including his age, location of birth, occupation, and freedom status. According to this record, Milton was 25 years old, a farmer, and his slave owner is listed as Sidney Smith (Fig 1). Unfortunately, I was unable to confirm through census records (without a great deal of research) which Sidney Smith in Kentucky was the listed slave owner, but it did provide a piece of the puzzle that is oftentimes missing.
Fig 1. Civil War enlistment record for Colored Volunteer Army (Ancestry.com)
Milton Washington was mustered into the 119th U.S. Colored Infantry in 1865, and although I was unable to find his discharge papers, the company was mustered out on April 27, 1866. Within a few years of the end of the war, Milton settled in Greene County. In 1872, he married Harriett “Hattie” Summers (Fig 2).
Fig 2. Marriage record of Milton Washington and Harriett Summers (Greene County Archives)
Milton and Hattie made Greene County their home, raising their large family (thirteen children). Anna and her husband, James Glass, also settled in Greene County. Milton and Anna had given up hope of locating their parents, but Milton happened upon information that their parents were living in Illinois. This information reignited the desire to find their parents. It was a long journey full of hope and despair, but after twenty years of searching, he found his parents living in Mendota, IL. In 1888, after more than 35 years apart, Milton and Anna were reunited with their mother (Fig 3). Milton and Anna had another ten years with their mother, and in 1900, Millie died at the age of 96 (Fig 4).
Fig 3. Found Their Parents, Xenia Daily Gazette, 05 April 1888 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)
Fig 4. Notice in Xenia Daily Gazette of death of Millie Woods, 10 Nov 1900 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)
From what I was able to gleam from the newspapers, Milton and Hattie had a full life in Greene County (Fig 5). They had a large family and were active in the community. They were members of the Zion Baptist Church, as well as a member of Toussaint Lodge No. 1823 G.U.O. of O.F. (i.e., Old Fellows).
Fig 5. 1910 U.S. Census with Washington family outlined in red (FamilySearch.org)
In 1912, Milton became ill and was diagnosed with Bright’s disease (a historical medical term for kidney disease/nephritis) (Fig 6). Milton Washington died on July 7, 1912 and was buried in Cherry Grove Cemetery (Fig 7).
Fig 6. Obituary and Funeral of Milton Washington, Xenia Daily Gazette – 8 Jul 1912 & 11 Jul 1912 (NewspaperARCHIVE.com)
Fig 7. Death Certificate of Milton Washington (Ancestry.com)
We learned of the story of Milton Washington only after happening upon the article regarding him and Anna being reunited with their parents. The story of separation was common in slavery, and many were never reunited with lost family members. This story is one of the few that ends with reunion and reconnection with loved ones, and we were happy to have the chance to share it with you.
Until Next Time.
Greene County Archives
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