Is Family Legend About a Slave Ship True?

Tracing Your Roots: Advice for verifying a story of courage passed down through the generations.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

“My maternal family comes from the Georgia Lowcountry — Savannah and a few of the surrounding Gullah islands. The family story that has been passed down to me is that some of our ancestors came in on a contraband ship, and when it was in danger of being caught, some of the enslaved people in it were thrown overboard. They swam to safety and ended up at the ‘Hazzard Plantation.’ To me, this sounds similar to the case of the people aboard the ship The Wanderer, which landed on Jekyll Island in 1858. From my research, it seems that the only ‘Hazzard’ plantations were the West Point and Pike’s Bluff plantations owned by the Hazzard brothers on the neighboring St. Simon’s Island. Is there any way I can get this story straight?” —Dominique Hazzard

Link Your Ancestors to the Hazzards

Sure, there are many tactics you can use to pursue the truth behind this family legend. You should begin by researching backward from living family members to the earliest known ancestor in this branch of your family. If you can determine the name(s) of the ancestor(s) who served as slaves prior to the Civil War, there are a variety of sources that could confirm their residency at the “Hazzard Plantation.”

As has been discussed in previous columns, often the first step in identifying slave ancestors is to trace them back to the 1870 Census as this was the first time every former slave in the country was enumerated by name. Searching this federal census could also show whether the birthplace of the ancestor(s) in question was listed as an African location or elsewhere. Considering that the importation of slaves was banned as of Jan. 1, 1808, anyone born after that time in Africa would be a more likely candidate for having been smuggled into the country.

Once you have the age and gender for each ancestor who could have passed through the Hazzard Plantation, you can compare this information to the lists in the 1860 Slave Schedule. A search of this schedule showed that Georgia only had three slave owners by the surname of Hazzard (and its spelling variations), and all of them were in District 25, Glynn County, Ga. This was the location of the plantations you mentioned (West Point and Pike’s Bluff) on St. Simons Island. While there were slave owners named Hazzard/Hazard elsewhere throughout the Southern states, it was more likely that your family remained in Georgia rather than leaving and later returning.

Armed with the name(s) of the slave(s) who likely lived in Glynn County, you can try to track the individual(s) as the property of the Hazzard family. You may be able to learn when each person first became the property of a specific Hazzard family member and sadly, how, as property, each may have been passed along to other relatives or slave owners. There may also be proof of how the person was finally freed.

One resource for tracking this movement is through the probate records for the Hazzard family members in Glynn County. Typically inventories listing the property and wills or estate distributions detailing which heirs inherited specific property have the best chance of naming particular slaves. For example, Thomas F. Hazzard died without leaving a will, but an inventory of his estate (from 1857) listed the names, ages and value of those considered his property. William Wigg Hazzard did leave a will (dated 1858), which included the names of particular slaves he intended his wife and children to own. The Family History Library has made many of these records for Glynn County available online.

Mixed in with these probate records, the Family History Library has also digitized some deeds and bonds. These records held a variety of sales, including that of slaves. We found at least three cases of Hazzard family members selling slaves (by name). The regular deed records for the county could also hold slave sales or even slave manumissions. These are available on microfilm from the Family History Library, at the Georgia Archives or from the Glynn County, Georgia Superior Court.

Even without the names of your ancestors, you may be able to determine if the Hazzard family members had any sudden increases in slave numbers. This could indicate a large purchase, like from the ship in your family legend. In addition to comparing numbers from the 1850 and 1860 Slave Schedule from the federal census records, tax records could assist with this task.