Mose Robinson and the Family Legacy

The fact that Mose Robinson had been an herb doctor was the legacy that decided the career path for many members of the family.   Coach W. F. Anderson had verified that Mose was known as an herb doctor. (See Mose Robinson, the Herb Doctor with a Whip https://wordpress.com/post/angelissmith.com/365)

PREPARATION FOR THE LEGACY

From the time that I was potty trained and able to attend pre-K programs, I was placed on the path to become a doctor.  By the time that I reached high school, it was common knowledge.   My classes were college prep classes intended to prepare me for my destiny.  I had first cousins who were already in medical school or who had already become doctors.  In every branch of my family there were doctors, nurses, and others who were affiliated with the medical field.  The die was cast.  The legacy of Mose Robinson had to be carried forth.

This is a picture of my pre-K school.  More than fifty years later, this building is still owned by the Bethel Baptist Association.  During these times,  religious associations took responsibility for the education of African American children in their communities.

 

WHO WAS MOSE ROBINSON?

I needed to know more about this man who had determined my future before I was born.  He was legendary in his healing methods.  How did he become an herb doctor?  U.S. Census records indicate that he was born at the end of the Civil War, around 1865, so how did he acquire this skill?  Was he taught this or was it handed down as an African or Native American legacy? Therefore, I started to ask questions of the older members of the family.

Of course, Granddaddy had already given me as much as he was willing to give.  No matter how much I asked, that well was dry, so I turned to the next oldest and closest person to me, Aunt Lillie.  Aunt Lillie was granddaddy’s sister-in-law.  She was more like my grandmother because her sister, Bertha, my grandmother,  had died young.  I was only two weeks old when Grandmother died, so Aunt Lillie took her place as the grandmother that I didn’t know.  Aunt Lillie shamefully spoiled me.  However, she was of little help when it came to Mose Robinson.  I decided to continue to rely upon her for other things, such as,  making her fantastic tea cakes and showing me how to grow fruits like strawberries, blackberries, and blueberries.

The next person that I turned to was Cousin Leona “Loenie” Pruitt.  At that time, I didn’t know how Cousin Loenie was related to us, but I always knew her as a cousin.  She was always willing to talk to me.  She thought it was a show of respect that I would take the time to visit with the old people as she would say.  When she saw me walking towards her house, she would light up.  I was encouraged by that.

She lived on the same street,”up the road”, from us.  The street that we all lived on was called Preacher Street.  It was named this because of all the preachers who lived there.  It was considered the longest street in Thomasville and the hub of the African American community.   The elementary and high schools (A. L. Martin) were on Preacher Street.  Football, baseball, and softball were played on the field behind the elementary school.  Before it was Preacher Street, it was Byrd Road.  I once asked Granddaddy why it was called that because as a child, I was fascinated with birds.  He told me that we were somehow related to the Byrd family.  This is one of those memories that I stored in my box for future adventures.

In addition to Preacher Street, one of the oldest  communities was Choctaw Corner.  Choctaw Corner was a former town in Clarke County, Alabama, United States. It gained its name from the nearby Choctaw Corner, which helped mark the border between the native Choctaw and Creek peoples prior to the Indian removal. The community was one of the earliest settlements in the county (Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, June 24, 2018).  Many people who moved to Preacher Street were from Choctaw Corner.

It was Cousin Loenie who told me how rich our family had been and how much land the family had possessed around Highway 5 and a place called Danzy Settlement.   She still had her share, but had sold some to some local land investors.  She also recounted the  story of how my grandfather lost most of his share of the property.  I was not oblivious to this story.  This was one of those things that tore families apart.  It was a part of the “trouble in the family” that we were not allowed to talk about.

From Cousin Loenie, I learned that Mose Robinson was a well digger, and that he taught his sons and others how to dig wells, including my granddaddy who was known as the master well digger.   So, Mose was not just an herb doctor.  He had other skills.  I wondered, “How did he acquire these skills?”  In addition to being an herb doctor, he was a teacher of his trade.  Suddenly, my possibilities broadened.

I decided to see what I could find in the local library.   Sadly, the local library was a relic of the old Jim Crow days.  This was during the mid to late seventies, but not too much had changed in Thomasville, Alabama.  It had only been a few years since the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan (KKK) had stopped marching downtown on their regular half-day business days.  The stores and banks would close promptly at noon, and the parade would start afterwards.  Even when the KKK stopped marching, stores continued to close at noon for many years.  However, being the daughter of the legendary Theodore Robinson made me brave, so I visited the library where few other African-Americans dared to go.

old town hallThis is a current picture of the renovated old City Hall where the library was housed.  In addition to the library, the police department, mayor’s office, and water department were all housed in this small building.

I didn’t find anything about Mose in the local library, but another cousin had started to keep company with a young lady who lived a few doors down from us.  Whenever he visited her, he would also visit us which was quite frequent.   Granddaddy’s sister, Aunt Ender Jackson, was his grandmother, so he knew a lot about Grandpa Mose.  The stories that he shared with me were epic.  Following is one story as told by Melvin Jackson.

MORE LEGACY

“Mose Robinson had a lot of sons.  They were responsible for the farm even when Mose was on his herb gathering trips.  Mose was also a master carpenter and architect.  He designed and built the family church, County Line Baptist Church in Sunny South, Alabama.”“The pastor and members decided to have a fish fry as a fundraiser.  Mose Robinson became enraged because they held the fish fry inside of the church instead of outside.  He considered this as blasphemy,  so he and his boys went inside with their horses and trampled down the tables, chasing everyone out.  The pastor called the local sheriff.  The sheriff found and arrested the boys who were involved, but didn’t bother arresting Mose.”

“When the time came for the field to be harvested, Mose Robinson got on his horse and went to the jail, which was located in Grove Hill.  He told the sheriff, who had a reputation of killing black people without a thought, that he wanted his sons.   He explained that they needed to get the crop in,  but he would return them after they completed the job.  The sheriff complied and released them.”

I’m sure that Grandpa Mose had his whip with him when he went to get his sons, but why would the county sheriff release these young black men to their father on his word? Was it fear or respect?  My quest for family continues as I dig to find out more about Mose Robinson and the “white” woman that he married, Luvenia Poole.

 RESEARCH IMPLICATIONS

From the stories that I’ve shared, there are several research implications.   I’ve posed some in question format, but I will restate them and list others.

1. How did Mose Robinson become an herb doctor? (See theories below)

2. U.S. Census records indicate that he was born at the end of the Civil War, around 1865, so how did he acquire this skill after 1865?  Locate and research the possible attendance in Reconstruction schools.

3. Was he taught this or was it handed down as an African or Native American legacy?  Oral history has it that –

a. Mose was handed this from his African heritage according to his number within the family, meaning that as the last son, it was his legacy.

b. Some oral history has it that he is a descendant of the Black Dutch.  Research the history of Black Dutch and locations.

c. Others believe that he was from the Black Indians from South Carolina or North Caroline.  Research birth place of parents and grandparents.

4. Search for land grants and tax records

5. Search Alabama Convict Records for names of his sons who might have been arrested.

6. Search all U.S. and state Census records for specified time frame and areas to include but not exclude:  Sunny South (Bethel), Choctaw Corner, Thomasville, other areas of Wilcox and Clarke Counties)

 

 

 

Mose Robinson, the Herb Doctor with a Whip

Everything that I knew about Mose Robinson came from Granddaddy, and Granddaddy didn’t have anything good to say about his daddy. Granddaddy described him as a very dark-skinned man who was an herb doctor. He often said that Mose Robinson would leave his mother to go get herbs, taking off on his horse, and it would take him years to return. Granddaddy talked about how his mother, Luvenia Poole, gave up everything to be with this black man. As a young child, I didn’t know what to think of what Granddaddy was saying. Granddaddy was apparently angry with his father, but why? Also, I couldn’t understand why it would take years to gather herbs. These were question that I would answer as a genetic genealogist.

Based on Granddaddy’s description, my image of Mose Robinson was that of a very stern man who rode a horse and healed people with herbs. Then, the question came that changed my perspective of Mose and my family. This is the question that led me to be the genetic genealogist that I am today. The question was, “Do you know who your great grandmother was?” This question was posed to me and my first cousin, Lonnie, in our high school geometry class by our teacher, Coach W. Fair Anderson. She and I looked at each other in bewilderment. Lonnie was extremely shy around most people except for me, so I took the liberty of answering for both of us. “Yes”, I proudly said. “Her name was Luvenia Poole.” Granddaddy had told me this when I was a small child, and he expanded on this family history when I was ten. Then, Coach Anderson quipped, “Do you know that she was a white woman?” Again, I held up my head in a defiant manner as our other classmates looked shockingly on for a reply. “I believe that she was mixed, white and Native American.” “No, he shouted, she was a white woman! She wasn’t mixed with nothing but white”, he said. “Go home and ask your granddaddy.” I was confused, while the class was ecstatic that so much time had been taken on this subject. I was also shocked that he knew my granddaddy.

The next day, Coach Anderson once again delayed class to find out what I had discovered and to add more to the saga. I told him that Granddaddy’s reply was that she had no “black” in her, but he thought she was mixed with something. After denying that she was mixed, Coach Anderson moved on to Mose Robinson.
“She was married to your great granddaddy Mose Robinson. White folk didn’t like it when he came here with her, but they were afraid of him.” I inquired as to why they were afraid. He said, “Mose had a whip, and he knew how to use it. If anybody said anything to him about his wife, he would whip him to death! So, they stayed away from Mose unless they needed his healing”.

I’m not sure what Coach Anderson’s intentions were by asking us that question. I’ve often wondered if this “white” woman was related to him. Why was he so knowledgeable about her, and why was he so passionate when he described my great grandparents? How did he know Granddaddy?

Whatever his intentions, he lit a fire in me to know more about these people. What happened in geometry spilled over into other classes. Biology, Latin, history, and my Old Testament Bible class became genetic genealogy preparation classes and launched my quest for family.

Let It Be So!

To be able to piece together the fragments and reconstruct family history, it’s important to be able to write a narrative for various time periods.  To write a narrative, the family historian and researchers must collaborate by sharing oral histories; facts, such as, historical data and biographies; and genetic DNA data.

Most of my narratives come from childhood conversations with my mother and my paternal grandfather, Sandy Robinson, or Zan, as he is  affectionately known.  However,  I have memories of past conversations that I overheard by tentatively listening to grown folk business.  Sometimes I find a quiet place where I can recall conversations with Granddaddy and other elders.   These memories become the basis of my research.  The following story is an example of a reoccurring memory that continues to guide my research.  It’s what we genealogists call a brick wall.

An older man at church recently told me that he discovered that I was related to some of his neighbors in the Clay Hill Community (1).  He was amused about their description of me as a child.  They told him how I use to love to sit and listen to older people talk, and they would shoo me outside to play with the other children. However, I would sneak back inside and hide underneath a table so that I could continue to listen to their conversation. That is so true! I was three years old to maybe five during this time.  Yes, young, but these were my under the table days.  As I grew older, I would find a quiet corner with a book and pretend to be reading.  The elders were so interesting! I didn’t want to play.  I wanted to hear what they were talking about, and I’ve used so much of what I heard from these conversation as a genealogist.

When I was about five, I overheard them talking about family members who had moved to Gary, Indiana. There was excitement in their voices. These family members were going to join some other kinfolk who had already moved and were making a good living working in the coal mines (2).  They were excited because these relatives had experienced hardship since their move from Alabama to the northern cites.   Later, I recalled them talking about their Jackson cousins who had children who were making it in the music business.  Sitting on the floor at Granddaddy’s feet, listening to the radio, I learned that the group’s name was the Jackson Five. Granddaddy told me that one of them was about my age.  Of course, I was more than a little surprised but thrilled to know that I was related to this group of talented young people.   It turned out that the little boy was Michael.

I decided to ask my dad if this was true whenever he visited us for the weekend.  I knew that these exciting people couldn’t be related to us. I just knew that Granddaddy had it wrong.  We couldn’t be related to famous people, but I really wished for it to be so.  Granddaddy was always telling me stories about famous people who were suppose to be our cousins, like a blind boy by the name of Ray Charles Robinson.  At the time, I didn’t know anything about Ray Charles until Granddaddy told me that there was trouble in the family. That’s what he would say when someone died or something bad happened.  One time the trouble was the boy went blind.  Another time the trouble was that one of the children drowned.

When I asked some of the elders about some of Granddaddy’s accounts, they would dismiss his stories as though they were fictional. Therefore, I wouldn’t pay much attention to him even though I always tucked his talks with me away in my private memory box.  I didn’t understand that Granddaddy knew what he was talking about until I saw the movie! Still skeptical, I kept this in my memory box.

Getting back to the Jackson family.    When Daddy came, I asked him about the Jackson Five. To my surprise, he said, “Yes, they are.” What?! How? He told me, but until this day, I can’t remember.  I thought it might be because of Aunt Mary who had married a Jackson, but through my research, I’ve  learned that that’s not the connection.   However, it’s possible that there is a double relationship through her husband.  I think the reason that I can’t remember is because of what he said next.  He said, “They are even more kin to Eric and Lisa.  Eric and Lisa were my childhood friends just as the rest of my cousins were who were closer to my age. I was shocked! What? How can that be possible?  Eric and Lisa are the children of my daddy’s sister, Rito (3).   Curious, I tucked that piece of information away in my memory box.

The genetic genealogist’s dream is to have oral history proven to be factual.   If this Jackson brick wall can tumble based upon oral history lining up with genetics, let it be so!

To bring down this brick wall, I’m using a combination of oral history and genetic genealogy.  Questions that need to be answered –

1) Are we related to any of the surnames connected to the Jackson Five, including the name,  Jackson? This requires researching their paternal and maternal lines.

2) Could Aunt Rito’s children be a closer match based upon a paternal line rather than their maternal line?  This requires researching their paternal line.

3) Who are the relatives who moved during each time period?  This requires researching census data, interviewing the elders who discussed this with the gentleman from church, and writing a period narrative based upon this information

4) How can DNA test results be used to aid in answering these questions?  This requires DNA test results of family members.

I will reveal initial results on the next blog of My Quest for Family.

Notes:

  1. Clay Hill is a community on the Clarke and Marengo County lines.   Although it has a Marengo County  zipcode, it is within the  Thomasville, Alabama area code.  It’s listed as Pineville on U.S. Census records.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clay_Hill,_Alabama,  https://alabama.hometownlocator.com/al/marengo/clayhill.cfm
  2. Many people moved during the Great Migration to cities such as Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh.  The Boll weevil epidemic also caused large numbers of African Americans to migrate from Alabama.  Read more here: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh
  3. Various spellings include Reto and Rhetta.   Names spellings are significant as they often point to a familial name practice.