Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Fatima Rutledge - The Case of Freedom

When you do ancestral research such as this you find a lot of interesting facts about slaves, slave-owners and free persons of color. It is rare when you find a court case that gives you almost everything you need in order to trace your family history.

This month I wanted to focus on a branch of family that I haven't discussed yet, the Rutledge family of Charleston, South Carolina. In certain branches of my family I can go back only a few generations. Some I have found little or no information. This was not the case with the Rutledges. As I discovered in my research, I have found many historical facts and case files dating back to the late 1700s.

Some of you may not be familiar with US history or SC history for that matter. So let's put the entire Rutledge family in perspective.

South Carolina Governor Edward Rutledge (1749-1800) was the youngest (age 26) signer of the Declaration of Independence. The history books paint him as a founding father but neither he nor his brother SC Governor John Rutledge (1739-1800), who eventually became the 2nd Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court, were eager to break ties with Great Britain. Both Rutledge brothers were slave-owners and voted to strike down any language in the Constitution that forbade slavery. However, after signing the Declaration of Independence, John and Edward began manumitting their slaves.

SOME were freed. Others were not.

FATIMA wasn't so lucky. She was my 6x great-grandmother on my father's side of the family and she had an extraordinary story to tell.

Fatima was born about 1743 in the kingdom of Morocco. She is the only ancestor that I knew of her life in Africa before being enslaved in the United States.

(A side note: One of my favorite songs is Marrakech by the acid-jazz group Incognito. Sit back and enjoy the video. I've seen them perform live several times when I lived in Atlanta. They put on a great show. Marrakech is a major city in Morocco. It seems like this stuff sticks in your DNA for real. WHO KNEW?)

Fatima didn't come from humble beginnings. She and her husband Francis were Muslim freedom-fighters. They were part of a group of Moors that were loyal subjects of the Sultan of Morocco, Mohammed ben Abdallah, otherwise known as Mohammed III (1710-1790). Interestingly enough, Mohammed's first consort was Lalla Fatima bint Sulaiman of Morocco. I am not sure if my Fatima was her or a descendant of them both. I cannot tell through DNA or documentation yet.

In 1769, Mohammed ordered forces to drive the Portuguese out of the port city of Mazaghan along the Atlantic Coast. The Sultan was able to win back the city but eight Moors were captured during the attack. The prisoners of war were supposed to be delivered to the Moroccan ambassador in England for hostage negotiations. Unfortunately, the Moors were instead shipped to America and sold into slavery in South Carolina.

Fatima and another Moor named Flora were purchased by Edward Rutledge who was an up and coming lawyer in Charleston. Just like his brother John, Edward Rutledge would eventually become the 39th Governor of South Carolina from 1798 to 1800. The future Governor owned up to 60 slaves before the Revolutionary War but after signing the Declaration of Independence, it was rumored that he freed most of his slaves. What really happened was that during the Siege of Charleston in 1780, the city was under attack. All citizens including many slaves fled for their lives. Some runaway slaves were offered asylum by the British forces to relocate to Nova Scotia, Canada as shown in The Book of Negroes. After the Siege was over and the British defeated, Fatima still remained a slave of Edward Rutledge.

Edward "favored" Fatima. That's why he kept her. That is until she got pregnant with his child. Having a mixed child with a slave would have ruined his promising political career. He got rid of her in order to avoid a scandal.

On August 10, 1783 Flora, Fatima and child were purchased by Alexander Oliphant, a family friend, from Edward Rutledge for 155 guineas (155 English gold coins or 162 English pounds & 15 shillings is equivalent to $240.30 US dollars). Thirteen days later Alex freed Flora for 75 guineas (78 English pounds & 15 shillings is equivalent to $116.30 US dollars) and Fatima & child for 80 guineas (84 English pounds is equivalent to $124 US dollars). If this transaction were to happen today, based on 2014 inflation rates, it would have cost Flora $2,584.44 for her freedom and $2,755.56 for Fatima & her child.

Who exactly was this child? He was known as NED RUTLEDGE my 5x great-grandfather. Ned is short for Edward. Ned was a mulatto. Ned would marry DIE SANDERS, relocate to Ladies Island in Beaufort and raise a family. My DNA test matched me with two descendants of John Rutledge Sr (1713-1750) a physician from Ireland who emigrated to SC in the mid 1730s and had 7 children with Sarah Hext from SC. They were the parents of the two governors. Therefore Governor Edward Rutledge was indeed my 6x great-grandfather.

Flora and Fatima eventually reunited with their former husbands. On January 20, 1790 the group of Moors petitioned the South Carolina House of Representatives as "free-born" subjects of Morocco that if they were ever brought to trial for a crime or misdemeanor, they would be treated as citizens of this country and not fall under the 1740 SC Slave Code (The Law for the better Ordering and Governing of Negroes and other Slaves). The petition, now known as The Moors Sundry Act of 1790, was reviewed and approved by a committee led by none other than Edward Rutledge.

(Another side note: My birthday is January 20th. Imagine my surprise when I found a court case from my ancestor that coincides with my birth date!)

The only other thing I knew about Fatima was that she had another son named Henry Rutledge. He was also a mulatto but I couldn't determine if his father was Francis or Edward. Hopefully Fatima lived a better life as a free person of color. It would be the last favor she ever got from Edward. His health started to decline shortly afterwards. He suffered from gout which made it very difficult for him to walk. On January 23, 1800 Edward Rutledge died of a stroke (formerly called apoplexy) in office after serving a little more than a year as Governor. He is buried at Saint Philips Episcopal Church cemetery in Charleston. I plan to visit his grave when I go back to SC this summer on vacation.


  1. Congratulations on discovering so much material to research Fatima. I enjoyed reading her story.

  2. What a great post Wayne! That's awesome that you trace Fatima back to Morocco.

  3. You made that look easy and broke it down. Which I know it is not! Your Family is a piece of History! I need a story like that. Loved the Piece and very well written!

  4. That's amazing Wayne, and wonderful that you are able to trace back so far.

  5. Way to Go! Mr. Young Way to Go!

  6. Wow Wayne!What an incredible story! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Another fascinating read! Have you met any of the Irish Rutledge descendants?

    1. no not yet. There are descendants that I match with on AncestryDNA and 23andMe but they havent responded to my messages.