A warm welcome today to Stacy Ashmore Cole. Stacy is the curator of the Liberty County, Georgia digital public history project, They had names and is a descendant of slaveholders. The project has identified and recorded over 30,000 names of African-Americans in Liberty County, Georgia.
According to the memoirs of his wife’s family, William McWhir was born in the parish of Moneyrea, County Down, Ireland, on September 9, 1759, to James and Jean (Gibson) McWhir. He was a homely child, and a bout with smallpox that cost him an eye and his complexion did nothing to improve his looks. His father and grandfather had both been elders in the Presbyterian church and so, despite the lack of any calling, he was pushed into the study of religion in Belfast and at the University of Glasgow. He was ordained by the Presbytery of Killiheagh in 1783.
McWhir had long been interested in America, and decided immediately after his ordination, right at the end of the American Revolution, to move there in hopes of bettering his situation. He quickly obtained a teaching position in Alexandria, Virginia, at an academy attended by George Washington’s nephews, where he saw and corresponded with Washington frequently.
Finding Alexandria expensive, in 1791 he accepted a call from the people of Sunbury, on the Georgia coast south of Savannah, to head the Sunbury Academy and their Presbyterian Church. There he married Mary Jones LaPina Baker, the recent widow of Colonel John Baker, a Revolutionary War hero who had been a member of the Council of Safety of 1776 and commanded a regiment of militia in what became Liberty County after the Revolution succeeded. Mary Jones LaPina Baker purchased Flora, Hannah, Nanny, Quash, Prince, Cumba, Boson, and Amaritta from her step-son John Baker in 1793.
Harden, William, William McWhir, An Irish Friend of Washington, Georgia Historical Quarterly (volume 1, 1917), p. 197.
1793 sale of land and enslaved people by John Baker (Jr) to Mary Baker (Colonel John Baker’s widow): Liberty County Superior Court, “Deeds & Mortgages v. DD 1795-1798,” p. 100-2, John Baker to Mary Baker; digital image, FamilySearch.org, “Deeds & Mortgages, v. C-D 1793-1801” within “Deeds and mortgages, 1777-1920; general index to deeds and mortgages, 1777-1958,” image #68-9, (https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3QP-5PDG?cat=292358) (accessed 30 Mar. 2021).
McWhir and his wife Mary lived on Springfield Plantation, near Sunbury, Liberty County, Georgia. Although there are conflicting accounts of how McWhir came to acquire Springfield Plantation, it is clear from land records that he did own it.
In 1803, McWhir sold “one negro man named Jack” to merchants in Savannah for $350.
1803 sale of Jack by McWhir to Williamson and Morell, merchants in Savannah: Chatham County Superior Court, “Deeds & Mortgages v. 1X 1838-1839,” p. 232, William McWhir to Williams and Morell; digital image, FamilySearch.org, “Deeds & Mortgages, v. 1X-1Y 1802-1805” within “Deeds and mortgages, 1777-1920; general index to deeds and mortgages, 1777-1958,” image #128
(www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3QP-Y99C-G?cat=140778) (accessed 30 Mar. 2021)
In 1846, McWhir “traded” a young enslaved man named Bounty, 17 or 18 years old, to Charlton Hines, a planter of Liberty County, in return for
“a certain negro slave named Daniel about twenty two years old, the property of the said estate of Lewis Hines (Charlton’s brother) as servant and waiting man to him the said William McWhir during his natural life and that after the death of the said William McWhir, the said Daniel shall be returned to the said Charlton Hines executor as aforesaid or his successor or legal representative of said estate.”
Daniel evidently returned to the ownership of Charlton Hines, as a man called Daniel, valued at $2000, was listed in Charlton Hines’ 1864 estate inventory.
Trade of Bounty for Daniel 1846.
Liberty County Superior Court “Deeds and mortgages, 1777-1920; general index to deeds and mortgages, 1777-1958,” Film: Deeds & Mortgages, v. M-N 1842-1854,”
Record Book M, pp. 438-9. Image #277 (www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3QP-5H22?cat=292358).
1864 Charlton Hines estate inventory naming Daniel: “Georgia Probate Records, 1742-1990,” Liberty > Wills 1863-1942 vol C-D > image 43 of 430 database with images, (www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3QS7-L93L-RJ96?i=42&wc=9SYY-ZNP%3A267679901%2C268025701&cc=1999178) (accessed 30 mar. 2021)
In 1819, Mary died and McWhir returned to Ireland to visit his only brother. After his return to Georgia, he traveled from church to church acting as a “supply” preacher in Bryan, Liberty and McIntosh counties. In 1839, there was a financial panic in the United States in which the price of cotton dropped dramatically and many coastal Georgia planters experienced financial distress and even ruin. McWhir sold twenty enslaved people -- Joe, Susannah, Joannah, Monday, Betsey, Phoebe, Isabel, Young Joe, Hetty, Biner [Binah], Jim, Nanny, Bounty, Simon, Beck, Sam, Peter, Zauger, Cato, and Alsendore – to Francis M. Stone, a prominent alderman and tax collector of Savannah in 1839. The enslaved people netted $8000 for McWhir, which he used to support himself for the rest of his life.
He loaned the money back to Stone in 1844. Stone used the same enslaved people he had purchased from McWhir as collateral for the loan:
"the following named and described Negro slaves being twenty one in number to wit Joe aged about fifty five years Susannah aged about fifty five years Monday aged about thirty years Joe aged about twenty one years Joanna aged about thirty five years Betsey aged about twenty five years Phoebe aged about twenty two years Isabel aged about nineteen years Hetty child of Joanna aged about thirteen years Mary child of Betsey aged about three years Dennis also child of Betsey aged about one year Binah aged about forty three years Cato aged about fifty five years Jim aged about thirty years Nanny aged about eighteen years Bounty aged about sixteen years Beck aged about twelve years, Simon aged about eight years, Cato [or Kato] aged about four years and an infant child of Binah aged about eight months and Sam aged about fifty five years together with the future issue and increase of the female slaves...."
Stone paid off the note by 1849, as attested by McWhir’s step-grandson, Edward J. Harden, with whom he lived in Savannah, Georgia for some time.
Chatham County Superior Court, “Deeds & Mortgages v. 2W 1838-1839,” p. 482, William McWhir to F.M. Stone; digital image, “Deeds & Mortgages, v. 2V-2W 1837-1839” within “Deeds and mortgages, 1777-1920; general index to deeds and mortgages, 1777-1958,” image #551 (www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-C3Q5-W4BD?cat=140778) (accessed 30 Mar. 2021).
McWhir spent the rest of his life on visits to family and former pupils. He died in 1851 at the South Hampton plantation home of Roswell King, Jr., overseer for Pierce Mease Butler at his Butler Island plantation near Darien in McIntosh County, Georgia. King Jr., was notorious, even in his own lifetime, for his violence against and rape of enslaved people. McWhir's funeral service was conducted by another slaveholder, Rev. I.S.K. Axson, at the Midway Church, Liberty County, Georgia on February 2, 1851. He was buried in the Sunbury Cemetery next to his wife.
Stacy has undertaken extensive research on McWhir, his wife and her family which is available here theyhadnames.net/2021/03/29/slaveholder-series-william-mcwhir/
To learn more about They had names you can listen to an interview Stacy gave to Bernice Bennet on Research at the National Archives and beyond, Blogtalk radio, 2020.
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Martine Brennan (Curator)
Enslavement to citizenship: African Americans in Irish Slaveholder records by Martine Brennan is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.