20160630 - Speculations on a Surname

At this stage one of the biggest unanswered questions I have about Henrietta Wood concerns the origin of her surname. I know that she was called Henrietta Wood by 1853 because her full name is given in newspaper coverage of her kidnapping and in the lawsuit filed in Fayette County.1 But that leaves open several questions:

  • Where did the surname originate? Boone County, Kentucky (at birth or childhood)? Louisville (after her first sale to Henry Forsyth)? New Orleans (after second sale to Cirode Family)? Back in Kentucky after her return there? Or in Cincinnati before her kidnapping? The lack of sources created prior to 1853 that mention her specifically makes it difficult at present to know for sure.
  • From whom did she acquire the surname? From a husband/partner? Or from a parent?

Below is a summary of my present speculations about the second question.

The Parent Hypothesis

In one part of her Ripley Bee narrative, Wood describes a brother of hers who said his parents were called Bill and Daphne “Touci” [sic], owned by Moses Tousey (whose name is not always spelled correctly by Wood’s transcribers. I found evidence in Tousey Family records that Tousey owned a “negro man Bill” and “negro woman Daphne” at his death in 1834. The same record mentions a Joshua, and Wood remembers her brother as “Josh.”

There is also a Daphne Tousey in the 1850 census in Scott County, Kentucky, which lists her as a 70-year-old black woman born in Virginia.2 Later, Henrietta Wood’s death certificate lists her parents’ names as “William Williams” and “Daphne Williams,” which could indicate that they adopted new surnames not associated with the Touseys, or that the reporting family member did not know/remember the surname, or that Wood passed on a memory to her family of the “Williams” surname.

These sources at least make me pretty confident that Wood’s mother’s name was Daphne, though they give two potential names for her father: “William” and “Bill” (which could obviously be a nickname form of William). Searching in various contemporary Kentucky records for those names turned up a potential connection: in the records of Bullittsburg Baptist Church, which was located in Boone County where the Tousey Family settled, an enslaved woman named “Daphney” belonging to John Terrill is mentioned as being received for baptism in 1812.3

Could the Daphney owned by Terrill be the Daphne owned by Tousey, and the mother to Henrietta Wood? I have no certain proof. The church’s records also mention a Daphne owned by Michael Glore, so the name may not have been that uncommon in the area. But I’m keeping the hypothesis open for several reasons:

  • Terrill’s “Daphney” is accused before the church “for having an eligitimate child” in June 1819, and other records suggest Henrietta Wood was born around 1818 or 1820.
  • Boone County was not very populated at this time, and it seems possible that Terrill and the Touseys interacted in business—they appear on the same page in the census together for 1820 (though admittedly the list was alphabetical—a further testament to how small the population was compared to later censuses).
  • The census record stating that Daphne Tousey was born in Virginia in 1780 would line up the possibility that she was brought to Kentucky by Terrill, who migrated to Boone County from Culpepper County, Virginia.
  • John Terrill later moved to Howard County, Missouri, where he died in 1850, either in the late 1820s (when he disappears from the church’s minutes) or in the early 1830s, and a possible reference to him in Callaway County, Missouri, census for 1830 lists him as having no slaves. So there’s the possibility that he sold Daphney and his other slaves before moving from Kentucky, and that by some unknown chain of sale, she ended up owned by the Tousey Family by 1834.

The first point above is particularly mysterious: while black members of the church sometimes brought charges against other black members for adultery or fornication, in this case Terrill himself brought a charge against Daphne for having a child out of wedlock. Why would he do that? There was no legal status for an enslaved marriage, even if the church did recognize such marriages. Perhaps Daphne was not married at all. Even if she wasn’t, by Kentucky law, Terrill would gain a slave anytime she gave birth. But then why report to the church that she had an illegitimate child?

Perhaps the father of Daphney’s child was a white man. The possibility is both wildly speculative (I have no evidence of this, unless I count the fact that Henrietta Wood was sometimes described by later sources as “mulatto,” but racial descriptions like this are fictive and can’t be relied on absolutely, and others describe her as dark-skinned) and at the same time plausible (given the broader context and the fact that rapes of enslaved women by white men as well as, much more rarely, interracial relationships did occur).

Here’s a possibility that is definitely wildly speculative—a hunch with no evidence to ground it, but no evidence yet to disprove it either: say the “elegimate child” born in 1819 was Henrietta. Say the father was a man named “Wood” (there were white men also living in Boone County in 1820 with that name: a Benjamin Wood and a John Wood, at least; Horatio R. Wood also pops up in Boone County records). Would Daphne or the enslaved community have given the child the name “Wood” as a silent testimony to the identity of the father, even if as she grew up she knew another, enslaved man named “Bill” as her father? Is that plausible given naming practices elsewhere?

The Partner Hypothesis

The other possibility is that Wood got her surname from a husband or partner, instead of from a parent. A potentially complicating factor here is that her son was Arthur H. Simms, which could mean either (or both) that Simms’s father had that surname or that Wood’s husband/partner did (which would then make me lean towards the parent hypothesis). References later in life to Wood as a “widow” (Cincinnati City Directories in the 1870s, census records) suggest she was married, either formally or by custom, at some point, but she never mentions a partner in her own printed narratives and I have nothing else arguing for his existence than the “widow” ascriptions to her.

The challenge here is also that Wood is such a common name, that I can find men with that name (or with the name Simms or Sims, for that matter), in almost any place where she lived before 1853. For example, there was a grocer named Heman Wood on the same corner as Henry Forsyth’s house in Louisville. But there was also a firm named “Wood and Simmons” on Poydras street near Cirode’s business in New Orleans.4 I can’t connect Wood to either, though, so its speculation even to suggest that they may be related.

Next Steps

My most likely strategy going forward would be to try to disprove the above speculations: for example, nothing in the Bullittsburg Baptist Church records decisively rules out that Terrill’s “Daphney” was Tousey’s “Daphne,” perhaps other records involving Terrill would. I need to investigate lawsuits involving both men more closely at the Kentucky Department of Libraries and Archives. (See listing of some on RA Assignments.)

Another total shot in the dark is that there is a a “Henrietta Woods” is listed under “Illinois” as the recipient of an approved widow’s pension in the Chicago Daily Inter Ocean, October 16, 1891, p. 12. If this is the same person (she was living in Chicago at that time), perhaps there is a widow’s pension file that would both identify her and her widower. But the practical difficulties in the way of figuring this out may be insurmountable: because I don’t have the man’s name, tracking down the pension file seems very hard to do because they are organized by soldier.

All of which serves to raise “the question of recovery” that I’ve been reading about in Social Text’s December 2015 issue recently. The surnames of enslaved people are notoriously difficult to trace: it’s rare to know even as much as I (think I) do about Wood’s mother. Perhaps the inability to know will ultimately be the point worth emphasizing. But if I could find sources that shed light on these hypotheses, that would be extremely valuable to reconstructing her life.

  1. See Source G on Wood v. Ward.

  2. The 1860 census may contain a reference to the same woman, under the name Daphney Thompson, living in Louisville with another black woman named Malinda Coleman.

  3. A Bill, Billy, and Will (at least two different people, maybe three) belonging to Terrill are also mentioned in the records, but “Bill” is mentioned as having absconded with another woman owned by Terrill and showing up in Missouri, making it unlikely he is the one who appears as “negro man Bill” in the 1834 Tousey Family record.

  4. For the Wood and Simmons firm, see New Orleans Commercial Bulletin.