Beckley Family History
The Beckley Family has made numerous accomplishments since the Civil War. However, the purpose of this write-up is only to present some facts about the roots of the Beckley family. This family history mostly presents family events that occurred during slavery in Mississippi and South Carolina. But we must understand and teach the younger generation that our family roots did not begin with slavery in the United States. Our rich history began in West Africa. Although Africa has always been negatively displayed in the American media, our Motherland is truly a land of vast beauty and a continent that has provided the world with breathtaking art, culture, wealth, and natural resources for centuries. Africa, with its many wonderful groups of African people of rich heritages, was a land of great wonder and culture even long before European nations bombarded it with the Transatlantic Slave Trade (Middle Passage). We indeed descend from greatness.
In 1977, Mrs. Florence E. Bolden, the daughter of Patsy Beckley, became thirsty for knowledge about her family roots. To quench that thirst, she requested the services of genealogist, Hazel Neat, of Pontotoc, Mississippi. That was the year when Alex Haley’s Roots aired on national television. This mini-series captivated many African-Americans who desired like never before to know about their own roots. Mrs. Neat found an important piece of information that proved to be instrumental in digging up the roots of the Beckley Family and in verifying family connections. In a letter dated April 9, 1977, Mrs. Neat wrote the following:
“I hope what I am sending to you today is good news as far as tracing your ancestors. Just as I suspected, Edmond Beckley’s owner was William Barr. If you will read closely the Pension Application papers that Edmond Beckley submitted……”
Land, tax, & census records, and slave schedules show that no Beckley slave-owners ever resided in Pontotoc County and the surrounding counties, adding more weight to Mrs. Neat’s findings. The Pontotoc County Slave Schedules also show that William Barr had 17 slaves. The identity of the slave-owner was recorded in the Confederate pension application of Edmond Beckley.1 Many African-American men held in slavery like Edmond were taken into Confederate service by their “owners” to serve as laborers, body guards, and other duties in the Civil War. Laws prevented African-Americans to carry arms or to serve as soldiers in the Confederate Army up until March 1865, less than three weeks before the South surrendered, ending the Civil War.
Knowing the slave-owner’s name, our origins have been positively determined and documented through a number of records. Our roots can be traced back to the plantation of Dr. William H. Barr of Abbeville County, South Carolina. He was the father of William Barr. Dr. Barr was a minister who believed in slavery. He owned a small plantation located just two miles north of Abbeville. This is where the “Beckley Five” and their siblings were born. Their mother, Sue, was also born on the Barr farm around 1812, to Lewis & Fanny Barr.2 Federal census records show that Grandma Fannie Barr had been born into slavery around 1790 in Virginia.3 Grandpa Lewis had been born into slavery around 1780 in South Carolina. Having enjoyed some years of freedom, Grandma Fannie lived a very long life that spanned three states – Virginia, South Carolina, and Mississippi. In 1880, her grandson, Rev. Jacob C. Beckley, was taking care of her.3 Grandpa Lewis Barr died on the Barr farm in 1846.4 Lewis Beckley was named after his grandfather to honor his memory.
Dr. Barr died in 1843, leaving 18 slaves to his wife, Rebecca, and their youngest children.5 After his death, his youngest son, William Jr., helped Rebecca run the plantation for the next 16 years. But in 1859, William decided to move to Pontotoc County, Mississippi, where his older brother, Samuel M. Barr, was living. Perhaps the family lore of the eldest Beckley brother killing a night rider in defending his family caused William Barr to step up his plans to move to Mississippi, in order to prevent Sue’s oldest son from being brutally killed. During those times, a slave was sure to be killed for the murder of a white man. By March 1859, William Barr established a sizeable plantation in eastern Pontotoc County, which became the new home of the “Beckley Five”, their parents, their other siblings, their grandmother, and other family members.6
Prior to moving to Mississippi, William Barr sold Sue’s brother, Pleasant Barr, to James Giles, who took him to Ripley, Mississippi.7 Like many enslaved mothers, Grandma Fannie Barr not only suffered the pain of watching her son, Pleasant, being sold away, but her son, Glasgow Barr, and some of her grandchildren were left back in Abbeville, South Carolina. William Barr sold Pleasant’s children, Bill and Mary, to his first cousin, Lemuel Reid. There is evidence that Pleasant was first married to Isabella Barr, who William took to Pontotoc County. After slavery ended, Mary and Bill Reed migrated to the Senatobia, MS area in wagons in 1866 with other recently-freed African-Americans. They were told that Mississippi was the “Land of Milk and Honey”. Pleasant remained in Ripley, MS, went back in the Barr name, remarried, and had another son, Elijah Barr. Pleasant never found out that his children had come to Mississippi, just 60 miles away from him. Whether he found out that his mother, siblings, nieces, and nephews were just 40 miles away in Pontotoc County is presently unknown. In 1880, Clay Beckley was taking care of Isabella Barr, who was reported as his aunt in the census.3
1880 Pontotoc County Census: Jacob Beckley’s Household - Grandma Fannie Barr was living with him.
Although slave marriages were not recognized by law, many African-Americans practiced the West African ritual of “jumping the broom” - marrying others on the same plantation or their loved ones on neighboring plantations. Their marriages were just as scared, if not more, as the white marriages that were recorded by law. Just as Lewis and Fanny had done, records indicate that Sue “jumped the broom” into holy matrimony in the early 1830’s with Jacob, a mulatto who was enslaved on the Lesley farm. The Lesley farm was just a stone’s throw away from the Barr farm, enabling Jacob to see his beautiful Sue and their children often. They had at least 12 children, including the “Beckley Five”. John Watt Lesley eventually sold Jacob to William Barr before Barr moved to Mississippi.8 This “sale” likely occurred to keep Sue from being separated from her husband. According to a letter Rebecca Barr wrote in 1849 to her sister in Pontotoc, the Barr Family admired Sue for being a kind servant, and Rebecca Barr desired not to split Sue and her family.9
When slavery was finally destroyed in 1865, African-Americans were able to acknowledge the surnames they adopted for themselves. Contrary to popular belief, a number of African-Americans chose a surname completely different from the surname of their last slave-owner. Many African-Americans decided to take the surname of the owner of the plantation where they had been born, just as Sue’s brothers, Glasgow & Pleasant, had done. Jacob Sr. took the Beckley surname instead of Barr. This surname suggests that Jacob may have had ties with the Bickley Family of Abbeville, South Carolina. Census records sometimes show the surname of the white family as Beckley, but research findings indicate that they spelled their surname with an “i” (Bickley). Lieutenant John & Henrietta Bickley and their children had migrated to Abbeville County, South Carolina in 1799 from Louisa County, Virginia. They brought 29 slaves with them to South Carolina.10 About nine years later, Jacob Sr. was born in Abbeville County around 1808.6 Since Jacob was noted as a mulatto in various records, perhaps Lt. John Bickley or one of his sons, James and Joseph, was his father. More research is needed to positively determine if there was a connection or affiliation between Jacob Beckley Sr., the Bickleys, and the Lesleys of Abbeville.
After the Civil War, five of Jacob and Sue’s sons - Edmond, Cannon, Clay, Jacob Jr., & Lewis Beckley - remained in Pontotoc County and became known as “The Beckley Five”. Their daughter, Louvenia Beckley, also remained in Pontotoc County. They all became prominent members of the College Hill Community. However, in 1880, Sue and four of her children, Sina, John, Patsy, and Susie Beckley, were living in Oxford, Mississippi.11 John Beckley was living with and working for Attorney Hugh A. Barr, the older brother of William Barr. Ironically, Barr Hall, which houses the African-American Studies Department at the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss), was named for him. Patsy and Susie Beckley both married in Lafayette County in 1876. Sue’s oldest daughter, Sina, and her family moved to Oxford in 1871. They had been living near Somerville, TN after William Barr’s sister, Margaret Barr Cater, and her husband took them there in the early 1860’s. Margaret had inherited Sina from her father, Dr. Barr, per the instructions of his will that he wrote three days before his death.5
All of the information presented was from a number of years of genealogy research conducted at the Mississippi Dept. of Archives & History, the South Carolina Dept. of Archives & History, the Memphis Public Library, and from documents provided by John Blythe of the Abbeville Historical Society of Abbeville, S.C. and descendants and relatives of Dr. William H. & Rebecca Reid Barr. Some of the facts presented do not match with some aspects of the oral history, but all information presented can be proven and documented. Although it was originally said that a Beckley slave-owner brought the Beckley siblings and their mother to Mississippi from Virginia, a number of sources uncovers the fact that William Barr transported our ancestors to Pontotoc County, Mississippi in 1859 from Abbeville County, South Carolina.
More Reunion History Information about the Beckley Family
The reunion idea came from Mrs. Nellie Beckley Smith. She was the first member of the family to organize a reunion. She realized a family reunion would be an ideal solution to her dream of uniting the family. The first Beckley Family Reunion was held in Memphis, Tennessee at Fuller State Park in 1957. The second one was held in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in Masonic Hall in 1958. Over the years, the Beckley Reunion has grown to be the most important event in our lives. Each year, we look forward to the gatherings of the Beckleys, young and old.
Out of the reunion came eight known Beckley Family Clubs. The first and oldest club - the Beckley Family Club of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, President Jean Cobb; The Beckley Family Club of Memphis, Tennessee, President and Founder, Jonas Beckley; The Beckley Family Club of Chicago, Illinois, President Clydell Todd; The Beckley Family Club of Cleveland, Ohio, President Charlie Givhan; The Beckley Family Club of Tupelo, Mississippi, President Sina Ella Huff; The Beckley Family Club of Rochester, New York, President Joyce Hogan; The Beckley Family Club of St. Louis, Missouri, President Herron Beckley, and the Beckley Family Club of Voorhies, New Jersey, President Preston Beckley III.
(Source: Beckley Family Book)