Sunday, December 21, 2014

The Curious Case of James Nunez

The 1860 census has always vexed me. I was happy to see that my ancestors were free prior to the Civil War. On the other hand, the census left me with more questions than answers.


This snapshot was taken from the September 1, 1860 census for the Four Mile township of Barnwell, SC. My 2x great-grandfather Robert Young aged 40 was a free person of color (mulatto) with a personal wealth of $150 (That equaled $4,285.71 in 2014). We also have my 2x great-grandmother Nancy Young aged 30 with three of their children Loreander age 13, John age 8 and Louisa age 4. My great-grandfather Alfred wasn't born until later that year. In addition to the family there was another lodger, James Nunnus, a mulatto aged 19.



Who is this guy? I played the Bill Withers tune in my head, "Who is he and what is he to you?" Was he a brother-in-law, cousin or just a tenant? The census provided no clues.



What is challenging for me is that I am having the most trouble identifying my ancestors of the Young branch. I can not confirm Nancy's maiden name and I do not know the names of Robert's parents. I have few matching relatives with the surname Young from all of three my DNA tests. I will blog about that later.

James Nunnus, born about 1839, was actually James Eunice in the 1869 Militia Roll, James Nun in the 1870 census and James Nunis in the 1880 census. He married Georgianna Young b. 1853 and had 4 children named Anna May Nunez b. 1872, James Joseph Nunez b. 1874, Louisa Nunez b. 1876 and Joanna Nunez b. 1880. Notice that James and Georgianna name a daughter Louisa. I think that Georgianna might be my great-grandaunt Louisa Young from the 1860 census.


I never found a record of James' death but there was an interesting court case about his life.


James was one of five children of Joseph Nunez, a mulatto himself, and Patience, his negro slave that he married. They lived in Burke County, Georgia which was 4 miles west of Barnwell, SC across the Savannah River.

Joseph Nunez descended from Dr. Samuel Nunez, a Portuguese physician of Jewish descent, who fled that country to escape religious persecution in 1733 and opened the first apothecary (retail drug store) in Georgia. Samuel's son, Moses Nunez had several mixed race children with Mulatto Rose, a Native American Indian. Moses and Rose had a son named James Nunez who married a white woman named Lucy Anderson. They were Joseph's parents. Joseph's father James owned Patience's mother, her and her siblings.


In 1846, Joseph Nunez transferred ownership of several slaves he had inherited to a neighbor, Alexander Urquhart. A year later, Urquhart sold the slaves to Seaborn C. Bryan. After Nunez's death in 1846, the administrator of his estate, Hugh Walton, sued Bryan to recover the slaves. Walton's strategy was to have the Georgia courts declare that Nunez was a free person of color rather than a white man. State law at that time prohibited anyone who was at least one-eighth black from selling or giving away property. If the courts agreed Nunez had an eighth or more black ancestry, he could not have sold the slaves to Urquhart, who could not then have sold them to Bryan. The matter came to the Georgia Supreme Court three times between 1853 and 1864 before the parties finally accepted the court's decisions that Nunez was not a person of color.

During the trial the defendant testified that Patience died in 1851 and he didn't know the whereabouts of Nunez' children. Somehow one of them, James found his way to Barnwell and lived in my great-great grandparents house as a free man. He had no fear of extradition and used his name openly.

I did find a living descendant of James Nunez a few years ago so his legacy lives on. In fact, I have kept in contact with several of Dr. Samuel Nunez' descendants throughout the years.  These wonderful people really helped me discover more about my ancestry as well even though I am not a Nunez descendant myself. You can read more about the Nunez family in a large variety of books, Facebook groups and websites. They have so many interesting stories that spans centuries.



9 comments:

  1. Bruh. How many ways can you spell Nunez!??? Im trippen over the 150.00 and what it is today. Granddaddy Ike had that much in 1912.! All that heritage mixed in One Line! I loved this. Thanks for taking me down memory lane with Bill Withers!

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    1. They also spelled it Newness, Nunes and Nounis in other census records for the father and grandfather. It wears me out!
      When we think about how little $150 may seem now but it was a LOT back in the day.

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  2. Good story! Kept me on the edge of my seat wondering whether Nunez would lose his case, and be exposed, great that the Nunez family assisted you in connecting the dots too.

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    1. the family gave me a lot of data on the court case, tons of paperwork. I am extremely grateful to the family.

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  3. I would love to know more about your findings on the Nunes family. I am in Pittsburgh & researching our Mayors for our Bicentennial. I found out that our 7th Mayor, Samuel Pettigrew, was Dr. Samuel Nunes'grandson! So now I'm trying to learn about his Savannah roots. Mayor Pettigrew was the son of

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    1. edit: Mayor Pettigrew 2 as Nunes' great grandson

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  4. a Scotsman James Pettigrew who emigrated to America & fought on our side in Revolutionary War He was wounded at Bunker Hill At a party for George Washington James met Judith Hart granddaughter of Nunes They married despite family opposition

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  5. Mayor Samuel Pettigrew was James' & Judith's son. I am searching for relatives, looks like you're one! Happy to meet you

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    1. I am not a direct descendant of the Nunez family. James married my great-grand aunt.

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