Tracing Your Roots: Was My Ancestor Kidnapped From Freedom to Slavery?

  An 1834 engraving depicts the kidnapping of a free black person into bondage (Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)
An 1834 engraving depicts the kidnapping of a free black person into bondage (Library of Congress via Wikimedia Commons)

A book claims that a man’s great-grandfather was abducted as a boy and sold into bondage. Official records back up at least part of the heartbreaking story.

Dear Professor Gates:

I am trying to find the names of the parents of my great-grandfather Lucius Kidd. All I have to go on is a book written by my cousin Dr. Kitty Kidd Robinson titled I Ain’t Mad No More. It tells about Lucius Kidd’s abduction from a creek in Arrington, Va., at age 11 (circa 1853), along with his mother. They were sold on the wholesale slave market in Montgomery, Ala., then transported, separated and sold on the retail market in Columbus, Miss. After the Emancipation Proclamation, my great-grandfather ended up in Tibbee, Miss., where he raised his three sons and died. —Robert L. Kidd


You are very lucky to have, through your cousin’s book, a detailed account of your great-grandfather, since specific records describing the lives of African Americans during enslavement are rare. Reading the pages you sent us, we were left with the impression that at least some of the account is written from family oral history, so we focused on seeing which specific facts we could verify by examining contemporary records. First we located Lucius Kidd with your great-grandmother Priscilla living in Mississippi in 1900, using additional details that you sent us.

What the Book Tells Us

Then we turned to “The Family Tree Withstands All Weather,” the first chapter of I Ain’t Mad No More, which provides very detailed information about the painful childhood of Lucius Kidd, who was abducted, along with his mother, from the Arrington, Va., area when he was only 11 years old. According to the text, Lucius was taken from his father, an African-born man who had been enslaved, but “because of demand and supply of a particular skill level believed to be possessed by him, this father either worked, or bought himself out of slavery.” (Although, given that the African slave trade was banned in 1808, it’s not likely that the father was born on that continent.) The boy was sold to a man described as Master Kidd, who had a plantation in Caledonia, Lowndes County, Miss., for a total of $99 ($11 per pound). Shortly after the sale, Master Kidd gifted Lucius as a wedding present to his son, Alf/Alford Kidd, with whom he remained until he was emancipated in 1865.

While the text does not specify whether Lucius and his mother were freeborn, the scenario of free people of color being kidnapped into slavery and sold down South is one Professor Gates has addressed before in this column. It was also chronicled by Solomon Northup, the free black New Yorker whose kidnapping into slavery was publicized in his own narrative 12 Years a Slave, and later depicted in the 2013 film by the same name.

If you want to learn more about this phenomenon, we suggest picking up Northup’s narrative, for which Professor Gates and Kevin Burke have edited a 2016 Norton Critical Edition, as well as the books Freedom at Risk: The Kidnapping of Free Blacks in America, 1780-1865, by Carol Wilson, and Solomon Northup’s Kindred: The Kidnapping of Free Citizens before the Civil War, by David Fiske.


We should also point out that their abduction from Virginia to Mississippi followed a route that was common during the internal slave trade that thrived after the importation of slaves to the U.S. was outlawed in 1808. Professor Gates previously noted in an article for The Root that according to the historian Walter Johnson, “approximately one million enslaved people were relocated from the upper South to the lower South … two thirds of these through … the domestic slave trade” between 1787 and 1861, driven by the cotton industry’s insatiable need for free labor. That forced migration is sometimes known as the Second Middle Passage.

What Official Records Verify

We turned to the 1860 U.S. census, hoping to learn some additional information about the alleged slave owners Alf/Alford Kidd and his father, Master Kidd. According to the census, an A.W. Kidd lived with his young family—his wife, Catherine, and their two children—in Lowndes County, Miss. His father, William Kidd (presumably “Master Kidd”), lived in the same county, with a sizable estate ($19,570 real estate and $40,000 personal estate), with his wife, Zilphia. When we examined the 1860 U.S. Slave Schedule (via; subscription required) to determine if William Kidd and A.W. Kidd’s personal estate might have included slaves, we sadly found that William owned 44 enslaved persons and A.W. Kidd owned 16.


Next, because the book says that Lucius Kidd was given to Alfred Kidd as a wedding gift, we examined marriage records in Mississippi to get a better idea of when Lucius would have arrived in Lowndes County. For example, was he one of the 16 slaves included in the list of A.W. Kidd’s household? The date of the marriage would help to solidify this timeline.

We discovered that Alfred W. Kidd and Catherine C. Harris married in Lowndes County on Feb. 10, 1853. Therefore, if the specifics given of Lucius’ childhood were accurate, he was likely living at the household of Alfred W. Kidd at the time of the enumeration of the 1860 Slave Schedule. We saw three males in the household, ages 13, 14 and 16.


If Lucius Kidd was 11 years old when he was abducted, lived for a period of time with William Kidd (Master Kidd) and then moved to the household of Alfred Kidd, he may have been one of the younger boys living in his household in 1860. The evidence that we had located thus far did not contradict the specific information from I Ain’t Mad No More.

The next step was to verify the older information about Lucius’ father, when fewer details were provided. Since he allegedly bought or worked his way to freedom, we looked for a record of a free man of color, living in (or near) Arrington, Va., in 1850, with at least one young male child and a wife. He most likely was a skilled laborer, since the book indicated that he had “supply of a particular skill level believed to be possessed by him … ” As a free man, he would have been listed by name in census records prior to 1870.


Narrowing Down a Match … Perhaps

We began with the theory that Lucius (or a variant of that moniker) may have been known by his first name before he was captured and brought to the Kidd plantation. When we examined the 1850 U.S. census, we located four possible entries (and one was for the Kidd family!):

Illustration for article titled Tracing Your Roots: Was My Ancestor Kidnapped From Freedom to Slavery?

However, because these candidates were not listed as mulatto or black, and that particular census taker was noting mulatto or black free people, it’s likely that these four boys were white. That spurred us to re-examine the 172 pages of the enumeration of Nelson County, Va., to try to locate a better match for what we knew about Lucius and his father. Of the 138 males and females listed as free colored persons in Nelson County, we located two very good candidates for the family of a boy near the age of Lucius Kidd.

The first was the household of John Duncan, who was listed as a mulatto male (born about 1790) and lived with his family: Sophia Lawham (born 1820), Martha Lawham (born 1847) and an unnamed male boy who was born around 1849. This could be your great-grandfather, who was later known as Lucius Kidd.


To prove this connection, more research should be done on the Duncan family.

The other candidate was the household of Richard Varner, who was also listed as a mulatto male (born about 1810) living with his family (all listed as mulatto): his wife, Eliza Varner (born 1820), and children Sally, Thomas, Judith, Wyatt, Betsey, Maria and William. William Varner, who was born in 1849, is also a good candidate for your great-grandfather, known as Lucius Kidd.


To summarize, if the details in the book are accurate, then the names of Lucius Kidd’s parents may be John Duncan and Sophia Lawham or Richard and Eliza Varner. To prove or disprove either possibility, more research should be done on the Duncan and Varner families. Specifically, follow the families further in the U.S. census to discover if the younger male disappears from one of the households. If so, it’s wise to focus on that family.

Good luck in your continuing search!

Henry Louis Gates Jr. is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and founding director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University. He is also chairman of The Root. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.


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This answer was provided in consultation with Lindsay Fulton, director of research services for the New England Historic Genealogical Society. Founded in 1845, NEHGS is the country’s leading nonprofit resource for family history research. Its website,, contains more than 1 billion searchable records for research in New England, New York and beyond. With the leading experts in the field, NEHGS staff can provide assistance and guidance for questions in most research areas. They can also be hired to conduct research on your family. Learn more today about researching African-American roots.

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David Fiske

Though it might be possible to trace Lucius Kidd to Virginia, my research on victims of kidnapping shows that they were often given new names (and this was especially true for younger victims). A different name would confound efforts by victims’ friends or family to track them down in another region. It’s highly possible that “Lucius” was not his given name at birth. As a slave, Solomon Northup was known as “Plat,” for example.