On June 19, 1865 Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. As a reminder the President Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the confederacy two and half years earlier on January 1, 1863. In our world of social media, internet, Wi-Fi, and Zoom calls, it’s hard to believe that it took over two years to notify enslaved people about their freedom. But the fact still remains that there were still African Americans in Galveston, Texas that thought they were still enslaved for over two year after the Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is a day of celebration, honor, and reflection. There are all kinds of Juneteenth celebrations throughout our country. Celebrations include festivals, music, food, fellowship, and prayer services. Just yesterday Congress passed a bill into law making Juneteenth a federal holiday. So in many ways we are moving in the right direction in regards to this country starting to have difficult yet necessary discussions about race, slavery, and how African Americans have been treated in the country for over 400 years. But there is still work to be done, since I have had to explain to many Caucasian Americans what Juneteenth is after the announcement of the new federal holiday.
Through the years I have celebrated Juneteenth by going and volunteering at local Juneteenth celebrations in my community. More recently I have continued to attend local celebrations, but I also honor my enslaved ancestors by writing blog posts, making donations to the Sons and Daughters of the United States Middle Passage lineage society, and researching my family ancestry. Through my family history research I have been able to find slave records and emancipation papers for my 3X great grandfather, Robert Hatchett. My research of Robert Hatchett allowed me to apply and be accepted to a lineage society that honors our enslaved ancestors the Sons and Daughters of the US Middle Passage. I wasn’t able to find a photo of Robert Hatchett. But I was able to find his signature. In some ways that is more important than a photo because that meant he could read and write despite being enslaved.
Robert Hatchett was born around 1790 in Fauquier county, Virginia. He was enslaved by the Pickett family. The Pickett family purchased land down south in Alabama in 1830 and moved along with their enslaved to Limestone county. It was in Limestone county that Robert Hatchett became a Baptist preacher. In 1855 William H. Pickett moved with his new wife to Jackson county, Arkansas along with their enslaved people. Robert Hatchet continue to serve as a Baptist preacher in Jackson and Woodruff counties performing weekly church services, weddings and funerals for the enslaved. On July 3, 1862, Major General Samuel Curtis issued Robert Hatchett and his family freedom papers or emancipation papers. There is no record of Robert Hatchett’s death, but he is not listed on the 1870 US census. So it is believed that he died between 1868-1870. You can read more about my research of Robert Hatchett and my application to the Sons and Daughters of the US Middle Passage by clicking HERE.
I often reflect on how my ancestors handled their new found freedom. They were forced to moved with their slave holders from Virginia to Alabama to Arkansas leaving family and friends behind. Did freedom allow them to return to the family they had left? Was freedom much different than slavery for them? My next research project is to find out if/when they were able to register to vote as free citizens of America. Have you found enslaved ancestors in your research? Have you found ancestors that were slave holders in your family history research? How have you shared your family’s story of slavery and reconstruction? How do you celebrate Juneteenth? Slavery, the Civil War, and Reconstruction are not just Black History; it’s American history. All Americans should know the trials and triumphs of our country’s complicated history. And this is why my journey continues…