Sometimes even after weeks of research there are more questions than answers, which is the case with the Verdier family. However, The Laurel Grove Society is dedicated to recording any known information, even if it doesn’t flower into a fully-realized history.
Here is what we do know:
- Robert and Caesar Verdier were both deacons of the First African Baptist Church. This information is inscribed on the obelisk beside the family vault.
- There is also a Daniel B. Verdier buried in LGS Cemetery that lists Robert, Caesar, and a Jane Ann as siblings on a Freedman’s Bank record. Daniel lists his mother as Elizabeth and father as Monday Verdier.
- If Robert is Daniel’s brother, then the Elizabeth listed on the family vault cannot be their mother by the same name, as this Elizabeth was born in 1810. Robert was born only two years later in 1812.
The biggest question is how Elizabeth might be related.
- Elizabeth: 12 May 1810 – 15 Jun 1866
- Robert: 4 Jan 1812 – 15 Mar 1864
- Caesar: 1820 – 3 Mar 1864
- Daniel B: 1821 – Jul 1884
- Jane Ann: ????
If Robert, Caesar, Daniel, and this unknown Jane Ann are siblings, does that make this Elizabeth Robert’s wife, perhaps? They are never listed together in any of the online documents and records that were found.
Here is what we were able to find out about Elizabeth:
- She was listed on the 1850 census as being born in Charleston, South Carolina.
- She was listed as “Mulatto.”
- The census also stated that she was a seamstress.
- The same record listed two people living with her. One was 18-year-old William H. Verdier, whose occupation was listed as a mason. The other was 9-year-old Elizabeth Verdier.
- A land and tax record showed that she owned a house in the Currytown ward of Savannah (also sometimes spelled Currie Town).
- The same record showed that she also owned 5 horses/mules.
Two questions arise with this information: If she were married to Robert, who didn’t die until 1864, then why wasn’t he listed with her on either the 1850 or 1860 census records? And if she were Robert’s sister and not wife, then why was her last name still Verdier, since the vault does refer to her as “Mrs?” Could it be that even free Black Americans in the South during the Antebellum period could not legally marry, so perhaps Elizabeth was the sole person listed on paperwork for her own affairs? What we do know is that she was free in the time of slavery and owning/running her own house. This is no small feat in the deep South.
Besides Elizabeth, the person with the most information was Daniel B. Verdier, thanks to the bank note and census records. Here’s what we found out:
- He was married to Maria Louisa (1827-1882).
- They had at least two children, Maria Louisa (1862-????) and Robert (1869-1938).
- He is listed as being “dark brown.”
- His profession was listed as being a “cooper.” According to Wikipedia, a cooper is a person trained to make wooden casks, barrels, vats, buckets, tubs, troughs and other similar containers from timber staves.
- He and his family lived on the corner of Pine and W. Broad St.
- The withdraw Daniel was making on the bank record was for the Young Men’s Reception Association. (This could be referring to the Young Men’s Christian Association, or YMCA as it is now known.)
There’s also the case of a newspaper clipping we stumbled across. Written in 1891, it couldn’t have been about the death of the aforementioned Elizabeth since she died in 1866, but could it have been about the then 9-year-old Elizabeth Verdier from the 1850 census? It mentions the death of Elizabeth Verdier and the auctioning off of her two story brick home in Currytown. Perhaps this is the same home mention in the tax digests and was passed down?
Sometimes countless hours of research brings up very little information, but it’s always time well spent. Perhaps someone reading this knows something more and can pass it along to us. Whatever the case, every search is a new chance to sharpen our research skills.
Edit: After more research, we were able to find more information on the marriage of free Black people during the Antebellum period from a book we purchased called Bound in Wedlock: Slave and Free Black Marriage in the Nineteenth Century by Tera W. Hunter. You can find it here.
Here is an excerpt that pertains to our question about marriage:
“The status of the African in Georgia, whether [bound] or free, is such that he has no civil, social or political rights or capacity, whatever, except such as are bestowed on him by Statute,” wrote Joseph Henry Lumpkin, the slaveholding chief supreme court justice of the state, in 1853. He argued that “the act of the manumission confers no other right but that of freedom from the dominion of the master, and the limited liberty of locomotion.” Manumitted slaves did not have masters, but they did need white guardians to protect their interests and watch over them.
Hunter went on to write that:
Slaveholding states provided free African Americans few of the positive rights in the statues he identified. The right to marriage was not guaranteed. Lumpkin’s sweeping condemnation reflected what free blacks were up against in slave societies in the South and even societies in the North where the number of slaves was dwindling. Georgia was one of the states most hostile to the rights of free blacks…
This look into what it was truly like to be “free” and Black during Antebellum times is gut-wrenching. It also make us wander who the white guardian for the Verdier family could have been and how it came to be. We will keep looking and update this post if more information is found.