From slave to #039;Uncrowned Queen#039;

Published 12:00 am Friday, November 14, 2003

Some weeks earlier, Zola Crowell, a resident of Buffalo, New York, contacted me regarding her Butler family heritage. She expressed interest in having her family reviewed and learning more of the related genealogy. She indicated she reads this column regularly and felt like it would help her make contacts with others descended through this family line.

To date, the family has learned they descend from Jesse and Rebekah Butler. It has been learned that Jesse and his family came from Lawrence County to South Alabama. Jesse, born in 1807, was a native of South Carolina and was most likely a slave in the Butler household. His wife, Rebekah, appears to have been born in 1816 in Maryland. They began to migrate south, and it is believed they may have resided for a time in Greenville before setting in the Loango community of Covington County.

Jesse and Rebekah were living in Covington County when the 1900 census was taken. He was 93 years of age, and she, 84. Residing next door was the family of their son, Ellis. Ellis was 37 years of age, and his wife, Mary, 35. They had a son, Ellis Jr. or Sonny with them who was 12 years old and a niece, Annie, who was 7. Before their marriage, Mary had several children who were probably on their own by this date.

Ellis was later married to Viola Sinkfield with whom he had two children: Birdell, a son who is deceased; and Lodell who resides in California.

Ellis Butler is believed to have attained the status of a wealthy and respected plantation owner according to current relatives. He helped his sister, Charity, with her large farming operations as well. He was successful economically and was able to own his own personal motor vehicle when they were quite rare. His operations were large enough that he was able to employ a number of African Americans as farm workers.

It appears Jesse's daughter, Abby, did not come to Covington County. Very little is known about her. She did have a daughter whom she named Ellen, but the relatives have lost contact with her and any possible descendants. The family would very much like to hear from anyone who might be living today who is related to Abby.

Jesse's daughter, Charity, was born in January 1850 and lived to be 106 years of age; therefore, she died in 1956. She was born into slavery, but she received her emancipation when she was a teenager. Charity is the ancestor for whom more genealogy has been gathered and who is featured in this story. Although she was never married formally, she gave birth to the following seven children: James, b. 1876; Anna, b. 1872, m. Andrew Feagin; Adaline; Pinkie, m. Jack Crittenden; Missouri, m. Washington "Wash" Upshaw; David, b. 1884; and Joe, b. 1887, m. Agnes Kater. Family records list a Gene who was married to Emma ?, so he could be another name for James or Wash. Also, the 1900 census lists a daughter, Minnie, two years old who could be Pinkie.

Charity had a real challenge to make a life for herself and seven children. She did this quite successfully by long hours of hard work on her farm. She was able to acquire considerable acreage during the reconstruction period. In fact, her farm was referred to as a plantation due to its size and the number of people living on it. She trained all her children to perform heavy field work along with clearing the land. Even the daughters had to learn to plow and do other physical jobs for the family to prosper. They worked during all the daylight hours and even in the evenings by the brightly shining moon.

Charity was quite successful and was well respected in her community. She was strong and courageous in caring for her family and managing the operations of her farm.

In 1894, Charity and Ellis donated two acres of land for a new church in their community. The Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church was begun that year under a bush-arbor located about a half mile west of the present church building. A few months later, a decision was made to construct a building. The Butlers along with Bill Johnson of Loango also donated the timber for the first frame building and the roughly hewn pews used in it. This building was two-story with the upper one being used for a Masonic Lodge. In later years, the second story was removed and other improvements were made to the structure. The first minister to serve the church was John Turke who was succeeded by Preacher Shers, Jonny Nixon, Singer, Wyatt, Gerley Pugh, Weaver, George Cobb, Calmon, Otis Cullover, Gary Lesley, and Elbert Freeney. Ellis Butler was one of the earliest deacons.

The known grandchildren of Charity include the following. Her daughter, Adaline, was married, but the name of her husband is not known. She had the following children: Minerva Elizabeth, b. 1885; Willie, b. 1891; Lawrence, b. 1895; Sam, b. 1896; Nola, b. 1898; and John. Some records also listed a Nobie.

Anna and her husband, Andrew Feagin, had the following children: Allie, b. 1891; Mannie, b. 1896; Rosa, b. 1899; Mollie; and Larry.

Missouri and her husband, Wash Upshaw, had the following children: Minnie, Laura, Jake, Lee, Jim Roy, and Mary Ann.

David had a daughter born out of wedlock. She was named Millie Butler, and she was married to Willie Frank King.

Joe and his wife, Agnes Kater, had the following children: Ruby Lee, Houston, and Ruth Lee. Wilson Butler was the son of Agnes.

Pinkie and her husband, Jack Crittenden, had the following children: Julie, Addie Pearl, Bessie Lee, Sally, Lizzie Mae, Robert, Sollie, and Oliver.

The following is a quote of the last paragraph included in a program on the family's history. "It is with great pride that we, the Butler Family, celebrate our heritage and the legacies of strength and courage left to us by our foreparents. Though we are now many families, we are bound together in love by this common heritage. And, as we face our future, this family will remain in tact because we share the common hope of peace, prosperity and advancement for our children and our world."

The primary resource for today's writing is the genealogical records of Zola Crowell, a great-great granddaughter of Charity Butler. She may be contacted by telephone at 716-884-6270.

Anyone who may have corrections to the above or additional information is requested to contact Curtis Thomasson at 21361 Rabren Road, Andalusia, AL 36420 or Email:

Photo Caption:

Charity Butler has been named an "Uncrowned Queen" by African American Women Community Builders of Western New York. She lived most of her life of 106 years in Covington County where she was a community leader.