Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Tombstone Tuesday: Hannah Gilliam

Adopted Maternal Ancestry

Hannah Gilliam
Rest In Jesus

This is my 2x Great Grandmother's headstone.  She carried many names throughout her life.  She was born a slave to the Singleton household in North Carolina.   Her name was Hannah D. Nelson-Singleton Gilliam.  Her" father" carried the Nelson name. [Her father was Benjamin Ellis Nelson, who was most likely not her biological father as it was told to me that she was the child of her slave owner]  Slavery is such a strange institute that truly stripped one of their exact identity. [Of course it cannot be verified unless it is traced through DNA or the Records, if any were left.  Many African American families depend on the storytelling handed down through the generations, which some may say is folklore, however, many times the information is accurate, and should be recognized and considered.] 

There is a Slave Narrative "Recollections of My Slavery Days" written by William Henry Singleton, who I believe is Hannah's brother or possibly first cousin.  He talks about the Nelson-Singleton union, however the commentators of his book did not find any documents proving that the Nelson slaves became the Singleton slaves.  The rest of the book was documented and proven to be true.  I believe what William H. Singleton wrote is completely true and it confirms my theory why Hannah carries the Nelson name.  The Nelson name is a remnant of the first slave holder within the family.  There seems to be some conflict in what I have found in research and the book itself, but I believe it shall be hashed out in time.  Hannah gained the Gilliam surname from her husband who died in 1867.  It is my belief that Daniel Gilliam, Hannah's husband was born a slave as I have never found him in any records until after slavery and he was located in Craven County, North Carolina probate records of 1867.  It is possible that he was a White man, but my theory was that he was Black.

I went to the place of where my Hannah was buried at New Hope Cemetery in Worcester, Massachusetts.  It was such a cold, windy and rainy day during my visit, that I had a difficult time finding her headstone.  Mary Depew, of Worcester, Mass fulfilled my request by taking photos of many of my ancestors that were laid to rest, in a place where they found freedom during Reconstruction.

I am so deeply moved when I look upon Hannah's headstone.  It was because of her determination and perseverance that she made it through those difficult years.  She was one of the pillars along with her sister Jane B. Collins that protected the Gilliam & Cully families and ensured that the next generations lived to tell the stories.

Hannah was a strong woman and disciplined with a heavy rod.  She raised and disciplined all of her daughter Nora Ann Cully's children, as Nora remained pregnant most of her young adult life.  One of the children you may recognize is Zara Cully Brown who played on the "Jefferson's" TV Sitcom.  This is the family line that were the first fruits out of Slavery migrating from New Bern, North Carolina to Worcester, Mass., in order to find a better life of freedom and opportunity for the next generation.


  1. I am curious about the Collins connection mentioned here. There is a Jennetta Collins Carter buried in George Family Cemetery in North Harlowe, NC. Did Jane remain in NC, or did she move to Worcester, MA as well?

  2. Collins is Jane's married surname. She was married to a Joseph A Collins, a mulatto born, 24 March 1831 in Southport, Brunswick, North Carolina, USA. He was a Brick Mason. His parents were William Collins & Frances Lowe. Joseph was apprenticed at a young age. I believe they were free people of color. I have found Joseph by himself working as a Brick Mason throughout most of his early life abt 18 years old and onward. I am not very positive as to what happened to the Collins family. I have not traced them any further and not sure of all the connections. They may have relocated into New Bern, and stayed...Meaning a larger portion of the family. It would be nice to find that out.

  3. Fascinating story about your Hannah.

    1. Thank you M. Dawn. Glad you enjoyed it and thank you for visiting my blog.