Help Me Trace the 3 Enslaved ‘Wives’ of William Dawkins

Tracing Your Roots: A church stands on land bought by the “widows” of a slave owner, and a descendant seeks answers.

Original Paradise AME Church building, before 1965 Courtesy of E. Giddings Ivory

It will be useful to determine approximately when the women came to live in South Carolina. A good first step in figuring this out is to research the children of Milley, Rosetta and Katy to find their birth dates. You shared with us your extensive research on this family, and you have already identified many of the children of these three women. Next you’ll want to organize your research by finding out the oldest child of each woman.

For example, the 1870 U.S. census record for this family shows that the oldest person living with Kate Dawkins was 37-year-old Nancie. Although the 1870 census does not explicitly state the relationship between the head of the household and everyone who was living there, given the difference in ages between Kate (then 70 years old) and Nancie (who was born circa 1833), they were probably mother and daughter.

There is also a Randel Dawkins living nearby who was born circa 1825. In addition to census records, William Dawkins’ will also lists the children of “Millie” (Charner, Mary and Barnet) and Rosetta (Riley, Bob, Wash, Mike, Barthena, Henrietta, Araminta) who were still living when he wrote his will sometime in 1866.

Records of William Dawkins’ children are also useful because if they died after 1915, their deaths were recorded by South Carolina’s Bureau of Vital Statistics. Death records in South Carolina from 1915 to 1943 are available for free at the site FamilySearch. We searched this collection by typing in the name “William Dawkins” into the field for the father’s name and then “Union County, South Carolina” for the place of death.

This search returned two interesting records. The first was a death record for Charner Dawkins, the son of William and Millie Dawkins. William’s birthplace was listed as Union County, whereas Millie was born in Virginia. Charner was born on May 17, 1847.

The second interesting record shows that a Barthenia Dawkins, born in 1848, was the daughter of William and Rosetta Dawkins. Once again, the record shows that Rosetta was born in Virginia, whereas William’s birthplace was listed as Fairfield County, S.C. The record also stated that she was buried at Red Point, S.C., at the Paradise Church, the same church that was built on the land William Dawkins gave to Rosetta and Millie in his will.

These records both provide more support for your family’s story. Unfortunately, we did not find death records for Kate/Katy or her children. We think that’s because all of them probably died before South Carolina started to record vital records in 1915. Although there may not be “official” state records of their deaths (or of Milley/Millie and Rosetta and many of their children, for that matter), there may be burial records for them at the Paradise AME Church in Red Point.

Church burial records generally do not have as much information about a person’s parents or even place of birth, but they may give you a more exact birth date. Also, given that the family is associated with the Paradise AME Church, it would be worth contacting the church to see if it has any records that contain more information about Kate/Katy, Milley/Millie, Rosetta and their children.

You also mentioned that there was a dispute between William Dawkins’ nephew and Milley/Millie and Rosetta Dawkins over the land that was given to them after William’s death, but that the judge ruled in Milley/Millie and Rosetta’s favor. You may want to search South Carolina court records to see if you can find any official records of this case, since they may reveal more information about when the women came to live with William Dawkins. The Family History Library has several sets of South Carolina court records available to be borrowed on microfilm at your local Family History Center.

Census records will also help you narrow down an approximate year for when these three women became enslaved by William Dawkins. In the research, you have shared with us the earliest census record you found for William, which is in the 1830 census. In this record, William owns three female slaves between the ages of 10 and 23. He does not own any female slaves between the ages of 24 and 26. Although the three women would have been slightly older than 23 in 1830, it is still possible that this is a record of them in the 1830 census, since these age ranges can be inaccurate.