This is the final post in my series of three on the connection of my father’s family to slavery —a 110-year legacy— and my search for African American descendants whose ancestors toiled on my family’s plantations in South Carolina. This post takes us to the Civil War and my 5th great grandfather, James C. Furman. Like his father before him, he was a slave owner, Baptist minister and educator. Along the way, I have had the help of genealogist Sharon Morgan and Trina Roach, a recently revealed linked descendant. Sharon helped guide me through the murky records of the censuses and other on-line research. Trina provided me with irrefutable evidence —by way of a 1916 article in a local Sumter County, South Carolina, newspaper—that some of her ancestors were owned by mine. Trina found me online through Sharon’s website, Our Black Ancestry, which links to the BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery blog. She also provided me with information about her family from the 1870s, as well as other materials, which she has graciously allowed me to use in this post. I thank both Sharon and my linked descendant, Trina, for their help with this journey.
Five years after the end of the Civil War, three of Trina’s direct ancestors were listed in the 1870 census of Providence Township, Sumter County, South Carolina: James Taylor (Trina’s great-great-great grandfather) born in 1820; Prince Taylor born in 1831; and Abraham “Able” Taylor born in 1840—all old enough to have been prime slave laborers before Emancipation. Trina’s research confirms that Prince Taylor was enslaved by Samuel Furman (1792 – 1877), who owned property in Sumter County, South Carolina. Prince Taylor states in a 1916 newspaper article that “his young master, Mr. William Furman [probably the grandson of Samuel Furman], left for the Mexican War [1846 to 1848].”
These Taylor are all listed as farmers in the 1870 census. James Taylor’s family included Fanny, 30, at home, Cornelius, 22, Suzie, 21, and Branegan (sp), 4. Cornelius and Suzie were identified as farm laborers. Prince Taylor’s family lists wife Lydia, age 30. His children were Margaret, 10, Elizabeth, 8, Charlotte, 5, not legible, 3, and Sarah, 1, at home. Prince Taylor’s personal possessions were valued at $125. Prince’s older brother, Able Taylor, was 39 at the time. His wife was Betsy, 34, keeping house. Their children were Percilla, 13, John, 4 and Isabelle, 3. It is significant that the Taylor wives did not work outside the home suggesting that the Taylors had some success as farmers.
Trina is researching whether Samuel Furman’s son John Furman (1824 – 1902) may have become responsible for the family property as his father aged. “I then realized, however, that by the time of the 1860 US Federal Slave census was taken, Samuel was already up in age. I therefore felt it might be safe to assume that his son may have been responsible for the family business dealings by then.” Research to be done, therefore, may reveal the names of slaves owned by Samuel Furman but listed in records related to John Furman.
My Furman ancestors were prominent white men who were part of the written history of South Carolina. Published biographies have been written about two of them. And they are mentioned in all of the major histories of the state. Therefore, there have been many historical materials available for my research—one of the many benefits of my white privilege. As a result, I know a good bit about James C. Furman.
James C. Furman (1808 – 1891) left Monticello plantation in Fairfield County, South Carolina, and arrived in Greenville, South Carolina in 1857. It was at that time that he founded Furman University, formerly a Baptist seminary, now a liberal arts college. He bought a house and the surrounding land in the countryside outside the city in order to continue his life as a planter. His plantation, named Cherrydale, was a 1,200 acre estate. His roots, however, were in the High Hills of the Santee in Sumter County, South Carolina, where his grandfather had settled before the Revolutionary War.
The slave census of 1850 shows that James C. Furman owned 55 enslaved people in Fairfield County. The 1860 census lists 50 people enslaved in Greenville. These people are thought to have been given to Furman by his prosperous father-in-law, Jonathan Davis, who was known for his harsh treatment of the enslaved people on his plantation.  He later lost his estates through suspect financial schemes.
The 1870 census, of course, does not list any enslaved people but does record a black domestic servant, James Montgomery, as part of the Furman household at Cherrydale. One could suspect that James Montgomery, age 30, had formerly been enslaved by my ancestor. Additionally, the 1880 census lists two other black servants: Chaila Dankins (age 18) and James Fisher (age 16). But not Mr. Montgomery. Dankins and Fisher may also have been slaves on Furman’s plantation as children. I followed Chaila Dankins and only found a Henereta Dankins, 61, listed in the 1900 census, Gaffney, Cherokee County, South Carolina. She had a son named Ferman Lany, age1. Knowing the last names of these three opens up the possibility that I will be able to trace descendants through the federal censuses in my quest to find additional linked descendants. In addition to these servants, a pictorial publication about Furman University includes an 1890 photograph of Abraham, described as a former slave of the Furman family in front of Cherrydale. Could this Abraham possibly be the Abraham “Able” Taylor who is listed in the 1870 census and believed to have been enslaved by Samuel Furman, uncle of James C. Furman?
Two of the most remarkable pieces of documentation I discovered in my research were interviews produced by the WPA Writer’s Project that mentioned my ancestors. The Depression-era federal program was created to interview still-living “ex-slaves.” The name Furman is mentioned multiple times in the “ex-slave” testimony of 87-year-old Anderson Bates. (Anderson Bates, WPA Project 1655, W. W. Dixon, Winnsboro, S.C. [Fairfield County]). According to the white interviewer, Bates says “I was born on de old Dr. Furman [possibly my 6th great grandfather or his son, Samuel’s plantation] place, near Jenkinsville, S.C. [Fairfield County], in de year, 1850. (Please note that I have retained the dialect used in the original typed interviews.) My pappy was Nat and mammy name Winnie. They was slaves of old Dr. Furman, dat have a big plantation, one hundred slaves, and a whole lot of little slave chillum, dat him wouldn’t work….De old Dr. Furman house is ramshackle but it is still standin’ out dere….Mammy was born a slave in de Furman family in Charleston, but pappy was bought out of a drove dat a Baltimore speculator fetch from Maryland long befo’ de war. Doctor practice all ‘round and ’bout Monticello [a plantation in Fairfield County, SC, referred to in family letters as the home of James C. Furman before he moved to Greenville], happen ‘long one day, see my pappy and give a thousand dollars for him. I thank God for dat…..”
“.…my old marster, have a brudder called Jim [my 5th great grandfather], dat run de Furman School, fust near Winnsboro, then it move to Greenville, SC… Dere was over a thousand acre, maybe two thousand in dat old Furman place….My pappy and mammy was field hands. My brudders and sisters was: Liddie, Willie, Ria, Ella Harriet, Thomas, Smith, and Marshall. All dead but me and Marshall.” He identifies his wife’s full name as Carrie Anderson as well as the last names of his two daughters and their husbands—Essie (married to Herbert Perrin) and Dora (married Ed Owens). Again, with these, it may be possible to find additional linked descendants.
In an interview with 96-year-old formerly enslaved Lewis Evans (WPA Project 1656, W. W. Dixon, Winnsboro, S.C.), he speaks about James C. Furman and his brother-in-law having acted as doctors on Major William Bell’s plantation. Furman was not a doctor of medicine but had studied the subject as a young man. He treated the enslaved people on his own land as well as those on the plantations of his neighbors. “Us had two doctors, Doctor Furman and Dr. Davis (probably the son of Furman’s father-in-law mentioned above). White folks care for you when you sick.” After describing the whippings he got for various reasons and the cruelty of the patrollers, he ironically says, “White people been good to me.” This was not an uncommon statement found in some of the “ex-slave” narratives. Scholars suggest that the “ex-slaves” sometimes said what they thought the interviewer wanted to hear and were fearful of telling the truth. Lewis Evans was probably concerned about the consequences of telling the truth. It is sad to think that oppression and abuse lay so deep in these respondents that seven decades after the Civil War they even feared the younger generations of their oppressors—and rightly so, as the laws of segregation in the South were in full force.
Sharon and I looked in the 1870 census for African Americans with the last name Furman. We found 12 counties in South Carolina where African American Furmans lived–a total of 115 people. Next, Sharon suggested that “I go to Ancestry or Family search. Do a census search for FURMAN (surname only) born in 1939 @ Sumter SC. That will give you a VERY long list of living people with the FURMAN surname – likely descendants of your FURMANs….You could think about approaching this like a formal research study…. Write letters explaining what you are doing that include a questionnaire asking about people’s ancestry? That way, you would have a basis to connect them to the slave names you find in the records. People who live in small towns have loooooooooog memories. Long term, maybe you could do an event of some sort…a ‘family reunion’ sponsored by Furman University? You can get addresses and telephone numbers using Intelius.com.” Intelius.com is an online national people search directory of current residents found in telephone books and other records.
As it turns out, there are not many African American people with the surname Furman in the Sumter County 1940 census–only 20. (Of interest is Emma Furman, who was 100 years old in 1940, thus was born during slavery! Another Furman, James, age 23, with the same name as one of my early ancestors, was listed as a “quadroon,” which means he was one-quarter white.) I also looked at the 1940 census in Fairfield County (where James C. Furman lived in 1860) and found only one African American person with the last name Furman. And in Charleston, where several slave-owning Furmans lived in the 19th century, there were only 11 people with the last name Furman. On Intelius.com, the people search directory of current residents in telephone books and other records. I found 20 African American people with the last name Furman who live in Sumter. Of course, I don’t know if these people are African American or not. But there are three people over 80 living in Sumter today: Viola Furman is 87, Henry J. Furman is 92 and George Furman is 84—elders who are old enough to be grandchildren of enslaved people or slave owners.
For the record, and so that descendants of some of the people the Furman family owned might possibly connect the Furman name with their ancestors (and should they Google them and find this blog or find Sharon’s site, Our Black Ancestry), I have provided below the names of the South Carolina Furman slave owners of the 19th century listed in the 1860 slave census.
- Samuel Furman (1790 – 1877), Sumter County, 83 enslaved people
- Charles Manning Furman (1797 – 1872), Charleston, Ward 1, 15 enslaved people, and Sumter District, 95 enslaved people (including 29 mulatto people)
- Maria A. Furman (1799 – 1870), Charleston, Ward 1, 4 enslaved people
- J. K. Furman (?), Ward 4, St. Thomas and St. Denis Parishes and Charleston, 18 enslaved people
- James Clement Furman (1809 – 1891), Greenville, 41 enslaved people
- Thomas F. Furman (1807 – 1866), Fairfield County, 74 enslaved people
- I. K. Furman, 1822 – 1865, Charleston, Ward 4, SC and St. Thomas and St. Denis Parish, Charleston, 33 enslaved people
- John Furman (1824 – 1902) , Sumter County, 19 enslaved people
- Dr. Richard [I. K.] Furman, (1822 – 1865), St. Thomas and St. Denis Parish, Charleston, 36 enslaved people
To find the names of enslaved people owned by these ancestors, I will need to search for plantation journals, Freedmen’s Bureau and tax records and probate lists of property for all these Furman slave owners. Then try to track the names to the 1870 census. That’s a start. But this search will be a life-long endeavor.
At the moment, by way of the 1916 article in a local Sumter County newspaper (see footnote 1), Trina and I are entwined in a journey that requires us to join forces to find our linked ancestors. Why is this important for me? It is the opportunity to face a descendant of someone my ancestors owned. Trina lives in Germany so meeting in person may not happen in the near future. But I want to ask her for understanding and forgiveness for the harm my ancestors caused to hers. For Trina, I don’t know yet what meaning our working together might have for her. But she has promised to author a post about her experiences on this blog. My hope is that Trina and I can “come to the table” with truth and courage to face the realities of our heritage.
 From Trina: “I just became aware of your site and series [on BitterSweet: Linked Through Slavery]….From a vintage newspaper article [The Watchman and Southern, of Sumter County, South Carolina, March 15, 1916] entitled ‘Remembers Mexican War: Prince Taylor Tells of Dr. Samuel Furman, Founder of Furman University ….’” The article states that Prince Taylor (brother of her great-great-great grandfather, James Taylor) “was born a slave on Dr. Furman’s place at Providence, Sumter County [South Carolina], and has lived there all of his eight-nine years….”
 In an 1853 letter from Mary Davis to her brother Nathan Davis, she describes the differing views of her father and her husband, James C. Furman. “[Furman] endeavored to persuade father to more gentleness—and expressed his belief of the religious obligations of the slaveholder. Father persisted in his own ways….The plantation negroes became dissatisfied—seemed to give him a deal of trouble—perhaps were disobedient—I don’t know about that—at any rate father thought so—and expressed in the family his determination to resort to severe measures.
 Charles Manning Furman gained prominence as the President of the State Bank on Broad Street in Charleston and served as trustee for many clients for the purchase and sale of slaves.
 John Furman lived at Cornhill Plantation in the Privateer Township in Sumter County.