Tag Archives: Arnold

The House of Huff

The House of Huff

“They might Huff and Puff but this house they will never blow down.” That was the closing words of the July 1989 banquet dinner that closed our national family reunion. It was held in Milledgeville, Georgia at the Georgia College State banquet hall. Every two years our family gathers every July, on the second weekend for four days. We come from the East, West, North and South. It is scheduled at varying locales throughout the nation. Like clock work just about every ten years we go back to our ancestral land Georgia, Milledgeville Township-Baldwin County the land of our ancestors.

Now there are three particular family surnames that are foundational to the family (Huff, Arnold, Reeves) and according to the tradition and family lore it all begins with the House of Huff. Although there are two other family names that are foundational and fundamental to the family line but for the purpose of this blog, I shall track the House of Huff.

The ancestral line that is the focus of this blog is my dad’s family (Richard Arnold Lewis). More specifically, it is my dad’s maternal family. It is the family of my grandmother Fleta Arnold Lewis on her pa’s mother’s side. Forgive me if I am starting this story with what seems to be somewhat of a detachment. Trust me there is a deep familial bond with my dad’s family and with my grandmother Fleta and all of her kin. It is just that the point where this family story may have initiated in one context, dredges up some painful and unresolved emotions for me. Although the experiences are not direct experiences of my own, I have experienced the feelings and the hurt precariously through my grandmother (b. 1917-d.1999) and her elder sister my great aunt Theo (b.1915- d. 2009). It is also the knowing and awareness of the historical context that I struggle with knowing that the ancestor of origin connected to my story was an overseer a participant in the horrible business of slavery.

One might say this should come as no surprise. It should be the expectation that one of African American ancestry would find an ancestor connected to slavery, particularly when those ancestral roots are generations deep in Georgia. Yet it is not a matter of finding him through some long search or digging through records. My grandmother Fleta and her siblings always knew the circumstance of their ancestry.

My grandmother Fleta and I were very close. As an infant and toddler, I lived in the house with my parents, my grandmother Fleta Arnold Lewis and granddad Orian Lewis, and my great uncle Otto Lewis and great gran Corrine Borgus Lewis, who is the subject of my inaugural blog “Georgia On My Mind: Milledgeville’s Borgus & Lewis family”…Being the eldest grandchild and a granddaughter no less who shared the same birth month as Grandma Fleta and grand dad Orian (February) we had a special attraction for each other as if we could sometimes read each others mind and spirit.

Even after my parents moved out of the family home, I spent most of my time during the summers and on weekends at my grandparents’ home. Even as an adolescent and teenager I could always be found sitting in my grandmother Fleta’s kitchen,always talking and asking questions. Listening to her oral narrative of where she was from in Georgia and watching and learning as she baked biscuits, mixed lemonade and fried slab bacon. Milledgeville had become like a common name on my lips although it would be many many years before I would ever travel south, (More about this later). Early in my childhood I knew the family names, of my grandmother’s parents and grandparents and yes even her great grandparents. Grandmother Fleta was the daughter of Tom Arnold and Rosetta Reeves Arnold. She was one of their many children. Grandma Fleta told me often of her days in Milledgeville. She shared the stories of her dad’s large farm and of her grandfather Eldar Arnold (who I later came to know was Alec Edlar Arnold and more on that later when I cover the Arnold branch). It was her grandfather Edlar Arnold who lived in Milledgeville, Georgia who was married to Catherine Huff. You see it was my grandma’s father, Tom Arnold, who was the son of Catherine Huff Arnold and Edlar Arnold. Whenever Granma Fleta spoke of her father Tom Arnold or her grandfather Edlar Arnold there was always obvious affection associated with those conversations.

I began to sense early on in my conversations with Granma Fleta, that when ever Granma mentioned the name of her grandmother Catherine Huff Arnold, there was an edge or some level of disturbance in her spirit. The tone of her voice always had some masked hostility. The few words that she spoke of Catherine never contained the gentleness or loving spirit that I knew to be my grandmother. It was not only my grandmother. Her sister my great Aunt Theo (who was about a year or two older than Granma Fleta), also had the same abrupt and edgy tone when they spoke of Catherine Huff Arnold. As a matter of fact whenever they spoke of her they never referenced her as their grandmother. They referenced her as their father’s mother. I initially thought that this emotional disconnect was related to the fact that their grandmother was not known to them directly, because she had died either before their birth or in their infancy. Although that was how I tried to make since of it for many years, I always sensed there was more to this hostility. Hostility yes! As I matured and had these same conversations over and over as is the nature of family elders telling their story, it was always obvious that it was not only the tone. It was also some of the words used that communicated some definite emotional conflict. It was evident that something was amiss between my grandmother and her sister Theo and their oral account or reference to their father’s mother Catherine Huff.

It was during my late teens that my grandmother began to reveal that her father’s mother Catherine Huff Arnold did not necessarily care or mother her children that they may have been mentored and cared for in the home of close family and friends. Granma Fleta and Aunt Theo always seemed to infer that Catherine Huff Arnold may have abandoned the children when she remarried. I recall my Gran and aunt on more than one occasion stating that “she had all those babies and could not care for them.” My Gran often told the story that her father Tom Arnold named her “Fleta” after the German woman “Freta Brown” who carried and mentored her father as a young adolescent or teen when he lived with Mrs. Brown and her husband and family. Granma said the midwives messed up the name and called her Fleta. The interesting thing is that many years later when it was time for Gran to retire and she sent for her birth certificate from Milledgeville, it did indeed say Freta and she had to legally change her name to what she had been called all of her life “Fleta”.

Gran was a pretty good historian on family matters. It was her recounting of the various family names that has made it easy for me to track and document the research in my family genealogy.

So let us get to the matter of Granma Fleta’s ancestry. Yes I am huffing and puffing in the telling of this narrative. You see I have always known most of the facts and even the names. I have also battled with the history and just like my grandmother I gravitated to the narrative of her mom’s family, the Duvals and Reeves or her granddad Edlar Arnold or that of her cousins and siblings. You may ask why? I will share the circumstance but let me share the lived experience that put the whole matter in the public family square.

I must acknowledge my Huff family lineage is probably the one that is most extensively documented across the generations by name, birth dates, marriages and even deaths across eight, nine and ten generations. By the diligence of my first cousin once removed “Fran” our family has a master database with the Huff descendants and their many generations and family names.

If you will remember that I began this blog discussing the 1989 family reunion in Milledgeville. The national family reunion was resumed in 1979. The family in generations past gathered in Georgia in mid August at what was called the “Big Meet”. It was a gathering of the Arnold and Reeves and Huff that celebrated the family and even their close friends each year with a Bar B Que, a roast of a whole pig and other traditional foods of our family and culture. (Those Georgia girls sure can cook and more of this as well).

As the family moved North as a result of the Great Migration many of the family branches settled in New Jersey, New York, Chicago, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indiana, Philadelphia and other parts. Those families in those geographical locales would gather in their areas for celebrations but it was not until 1979 that the entire family returned to Georgia for the national family reunion. It was in this mass return of our family to Georgia that I traveled south to Milledgeville, Georgia for the very first time. I was twenty two. I had just graduated from College with my Bachelor of Science in Nursing and I was heading to Georgia, with many of our family from New Jersey, New York and Philadelphia celebrating the national gathering of our massive family of Huff Arnold Reeves. It was here at this gathering that I really gained an appreciation for the massive oral narrative of the family told by Granma her sisters, her first cousins the women who seemed to be the keepers and tellers of the family narrative. It was so engrained in them who the family elders were and what names were to be called as families of origin that when one of the families became sensitive that their name was not called (Myrick) Great Aunt Corrine Arnold Baker the eldest sister, Aunt Theo, Grandma and Aunt Chris broke it down so that the family could understand that Myrick was the name of their Aunt Tweet Arnold their father’s sister. Myrick was her name by marriage.

They taught with great power the importance of being able to call the family tree by names of origin of parentage and then know how the names from marriage then connected the families. They taught us that Aunt Tweet although married and named Myrick by marriage was an Arnold and her children although Myrick by their father’s name were celebrating their mother’s paternal Arnold roots at this family reunion. It was the first strong lesson on the accuracy of referencing a family tree correctly. In my Grandma’s words “you will be like a bird flying to a tree and not able to find your nest.”

It was also at this same family reunion that I for the first time heard the town of Eatonton of Putnam County referenced. All of my childhood, I had only heard of Milledgeville Baldwin County, Georgia. Yet it was here that I began to know the connection of both Eatonton and Milledgeville in the legacy of my family tree. It was on this very first trip south, that I traveled with my second cousin Kevin to Eatonton to check on the property of his grandparents in Eatonton. It was a farm house in the country and that summer night sky twinkled like navy midnight blue with diamond stars and the moon the only illumination. I felt a strange stirring. I could not understand it. What was it about this Eatonton, Putnam County, Georgia that was stirring something deep within me? There was a familiarity although I had never been south or here. Even my presence in Milledgeville did not seem to produce this same sense of familiarity.

It was some time later that I learned that although my Granma Fleta spoke of Milledgeville as her ancestral home, Eatonton Putnam County was the location of my granddad Orian Lewis’ family beginnings as well as the beginnings of Grandma Fleta’s grandmother Catherine Huff Arnold.

I tell this story fleetingly. Having all of the names for the Huff line there is actually only one name that I was invested in tracing and learning more about. Huff actually would not even be her family of origin name. It was the name she assumed. You see her name was Jane and she was the one who I had questions about and wanted to know her story, her narrative and her name.

I was prodded and poked to tell this story. But you know as the saying goes, “only you can tell your story and you can only tell it when it is your time to tell it.” My hesitancy in telling this story was out of my concern for paying respect to the spirit of my Grandma Fleta and my Great Aunt Theo. You see their feelings on this Huff story lineage ran quite deep. I knew this based on years of listening to them and their narrative. Yet it played its self out in a big way at the 1989 family reunion in Milledgeville, at the Georgia College State banquet hall. So I do tell this story huffing and puffing. Not to blow down the House of Huff but to bring some context to the feelings of my Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo about having their Huff ancestry put in the public square at the family reunion.

Having received their spiritual permission to tell their story about their Huff lineage, I share it with all due respect. Ashe Ashe.

At the close of the 1989 family reunion the roll call for the oldest living elder was made and with that, the calling out the name of the ancestors and the lineage. We were accustomed to them calling out the ancestral names of Huff, Arnold, Reeves; 1: the names of the Arnold children, of Catherine Huff Arnold and Edlar Alec Arnold, 2: the names of Catherine Huff Arnold’s brothers and sisters of the Huff line and their descendants. 3: They also called the names of the siblings and their descendants of Tom Arnold’s wife Rosetta Reeves Arnold. The Reeves descendants were called because of the double marriages within the Arnold and Reeves family. (Tom Arnold and his sister Lottie Arnold married into the Reeves family with the marriage to Rosetta Reeves and her brother Crawford “Booker” Reeves). This made many of the family double first cousins and they as well were descendants from the Huff line.

As I sat at the table with my Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo during the roll call, I began to sense their ire. Mind you, we were in a large banquet room. There was easily three hundred plus family members present. Grandma started tapping her foot and humming and Aunt Theo began not so quietly whispering a few choice words into Grandma Fleta’s ear. They were quickly becoming quite agitated and the entire family knew it. Now if it had been just Aunt Theo, it would have been overlooked. “Auntie Theo had a way a making a disturbance that was not a surprise to anyone. Grandma Fleta was the more gentle diplomatic sister. So when it was obvious to their children and nieces and nephews that something was wrong everyone began gesturing to me “asking what is wrong?” I did not know and I was not about to ask in the heat of their ire. I did gather from what I heard that they were very angry that the cousin who was the chairperson was naming a Huff man of white ancestry as the head ancestor. They took this as a great slap in the face and disrespect to their father and grandfathers on the Arnold and Reeves line.

It was later in the evening that I learned from my grandmother that the woman named as the female ancestor Jane (was an African slave) who was the mother of 14 children that she birthed for the white overseer William Huff. My grandmother and her sister were angry because their niece “the chairperson” tried to whitewash the situation by referencing to Jane as a West Indian wife. In their words she was not West Indian she was African a slave who had fourteen babies for the white overseer. “A Georgia Cracker” sic( not my words but theirs). According to them “Cracker” was an old name that the slaves and southern Blacks called the Overseer. It derived from the sound that the whip made a “cracking sound” when the slaves were beat and whipped by the overseer. Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo were down right angry that in their opinion, their niece was glorifying this relationship as if it was entered into willingly. They were very angry that their niece (one of their sister’s daughters) was making grand of this man who in their eyes was a “slaver”. In their anger they began to reveal what was a mind blowing revelation. Grandmother and Auntie shared with me that as little children and even as early teens they had attempted to embrace and engage their aunts and uncles who lived in Eatonton who were Huffs. In a child’s mind they new that these were their father’s relatives even though they were white. My grandmother even as she was then in her 72 years teared up at the rejection they suffered on more than one occasion. Later in my blog on the Arnold’s I will give more detail on these particular events.

Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo were very aware of William Huff as a white overseer and his connection to the woman Jane the African Slave, who they acknowledged as their great grandmother and who was the mother of Catherine Huff Arnold and the grandmother of their father Tom Arnold. I had heard in a subtle way my Grandma reference her white Huff family, particularly when she mentioned one time that there was a white Judge in Georgia who was a Huff descendant of her family. She would not discuss to much more.

Grandma and Aunt Theo, weeks later when we were sitting in her kitchen shared that even after all those years later, it was humiliating to have the overseer shoved down their throat as someone they had to accept. It was still a source of humiliation. They lovingly embraced the circumstance of the woman Jane the African Slave woman, who was their ancestor but they refused to embrace the white overseer as their greatgrandfather to them he was that “Georgia Cracker” sic.

It was out of this whole situation that I also learned from Grandma and Auntie that their niece (who was the daughter of their sister) carried her husband’s name of Huff had “unknowingly” married her own cousin. To my grandmother and my aunt they felt they got the last laugh. Their neice had constructed a detailed genealogy but did not seem to realize her great grandmother Catherine Huff Arnold was the sister to her husband’s great grandfather. She had traced her family but did not think to see if there was a common link with her husband’s Huff line. Grandmother and Aunt Theo said even if their niece did not know, her mother knew and her husband’s father had to know. For surely Grandma and Aunt Theo realized it when they went south years ago and realized their niece had married their second cousin’s son….

Oh, the importance of knowing who your people are! Now, I ain’t casting no stones for I truly live in a glass house but that is a story for another family tree.

Now all the huffing and puffing on my part is because I still struggle with the idea that I know the name of the overseer. Yes that is what I have called him all these years, but up until recently I did not know the possible surname of Jane. Interestingly enough on the 1870 census she is listed on the census as the wife of William Huff. William Huff and Jane and all of their children are all listed as white, although Jane and her children were Mulatoo. The multi generational existence of my family throughout their time in Georgia has been rich with the passing down of the oral narrative of the ancestors. The census online research, that I enacted to check the validity of the oral narrative passed down to me, has been on point every signal time. It as well has a been filled with some surprises.

One of the family oral narratives that was repeated regularly is that William Huff was born in Germany (one other account was England) He was supposed to have come to the USA sometime after the 1848 Spanish American War. He was befriended by a Charles Humble and the two worked on the supposed Humber or Humble plantation. William was said to have been an overseer. It is said that it was on this Humble (Humber) plantation that William met Jane who was a slave on this plantation. It is here that the family lore states that they became companions but Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo have always questioned how much ability did Jane have to agree or disagree to be the companion? There are family members who over the years have fostered the idea that this was a mutual relationship.

I stand on the side of unknowing since it was a time and era when an African woman who was a slave had no agency and no voice to act within her own free will. The 1870 census list them as husband and wife with thirteen children. Yet the 1880 census notes that Jane Huff is living alone with her children. It is interesting to note that I was able to track that William Huff was still living on the 1880 census but he was no longer in the household with Jane and his large number of children with her as noted on the 1870 census. On the 1880 census William Huff is living with his “white wife Anna and their infant son Lucious, who is the half brother to the children William sired with Jane. It is interesting to note that Jane on the 1880 census in the household with her children is noted as Mulatoo. It is my conjecture that William Huff after slavery and after the 1870 census needed a white heir.

It is noted that the child Lucious, William Huff had with his wife Anna was in relationship with his older half brothers and sisters. Catherine Huff Arnold (my great great grandmother the daughter of William and Jane) named one of her sons Lucious after her half brother. Several of the other siblings as well named a son after their half brother Lucious. Lucious is a name that has repeated across the Huff Arnold and Reeves lines.
The 1870 census page notes William and Jane in same household together with the following children… *their names are listed below*

The 1880 census page notes Jane age 40 living with her children alone.

The 1880 census page notes William Huff 56 living with his (white) wife Anne age 28 and their infant son Lucious Huff.

The United States Naturalization Record Index 1794-1995 for the U.S, Supreme Court of the District of Columbia (Recorded on page 81 of 219 of the Ancestry.com index) notes both a Charles J. Hubble and a William Huff receiving their naturalization citizenship. The family oral narrative was supported by this document that shows these two men in relationship with each other and receiving citizenship together. N.R. 3 page 323 noted for the Index for Charles J. Hubble on July 31, 1890 and on the same index William Huff N.R. 3 page 322 July 24, 1890.

The oral narrative was supported consistently with the census records and the naturalization records. I actually came across this naturalization record over the past two years. I was definitely surprised to find it. I had searched for many years for corroborative data that supported the oral narrative of a friendship between William Huff and this Charlie Humble/Humber.

It was not that I was that interested in learning anything more about William Huff. His abandoning Jane (that is how I see it) after all of those children to marry a white wife spoke to continued opportunistic behavior. I wanted to find the Hubble connection to track the plantation and maybe find out more about my great great great grandmother Jane and her surname and something about her narrative. The oldest two children that Jane had with William were born in Putnam County Eatonton Georgia. Could this be the stirring in my being I experienced when I first visited Eatonton? Was it the nudging of my ancestor Jane to look for her? William acquired property in Baldwin county and became a farmer according to the family accounting but I speak to the dates of his childrens’ birth. He continued to be a slaver an overseer as the first seven of his children with Jane were born prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.
These are the names of his children with Jane noted by our family database and oral narrative and documented on the 1870 census.
(1.) Albert abt. 1855/ (2.) Catherine abt. 1856/ (3.) Charlie abt. 1857/ (4.) Polly abt. 1860/ (5.) Minta(Pinkey) abt.1860/ (6.) Delois abt.1861/ (7.) Louis abt. 1862/ (8.) Johnny 1865/ (9.) Nancy abt. 1865/ (10.)Ella abt./ 1868/ (11.)William II abt. 1868/
(12.) Susan abt. 1869/ (13.) Julia abt. 1871/ (14.) Camilla abt. 1877.
They all carried the surname name of Huff. It is interested to note that the third child was named after William Huff’s friend Charlie Hubble. In upcoming Blogs I will discuss my great great great Grandmother Jane and the surprise revelation from my first cousin once removed “Fran”. It is my hope that I will be able to insert the various censuses and the naturalization records noted above. Particularly the 1900 census that confirms the other children of William Huff and Ana Huff (Sarfting possibly her remarried name or her maiden name still uncertain) their children Lucious Huff, Benjamin Huff, daughter Gertrude Huff, and the son William Huff born 1885. These names are important because they are the aunt and uncles that Grandma Fleta and Aunt Theo references as having rejected and humiliated them when they were children. Something to Huff and Puff about.

1870 census with William Huff and Jane in same household.

Name:

William Huff

Age in 1870:

30

Birth Year:

abt 1840

Birthplace:

Georgia

Home in 1870:

Baldwin, Georgia

Race:

White

Gender:

Male

Post Office:

Milledgeville

Value of real estate:

View Image

Household Members:

 

1880 census with Jane Huff and her children note marital status is single Race Black

Name:

Jan Huff

Age:

40

Birth Year:

abt 1840

Birthplace:

Georgia

Home in 1880:

District 318, Baldwin, Georgia

Race:

Black

Gender:

Female

Relation to Head of House:

Self (Head)

Marital status:

Single

Father’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Mother’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Neighbors:

View others on page

Occupation:

Farmer

Cannot read/write:

Blind:

Deaf and Dumb:

Otherwise disabled:

Idiotic or insane:

View Image

Household Members:

 

 

1880 census William Huff married to wife Anna with infant Lucious,

Name:

Anna Huff

Age:

28

Birth Year:

abt 1852

Birthplace:

Georgia

Home in 1880:

District 318, Baldwin, Georgia

Race:

White

Gender:

Female

Relation to Head of House:

Wife

Marital status:

Married

Spouse’s Name:

William Huff

Father’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Mother’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Neighbors:

View others on page

Occupation:

Keeping House

Cannot read/write:

Blind:

Deaf and Dumb:

Otherwise disabled:

Idiotic or insane:

View Image

Household Members:

 

1890 United States Naturalization Record Index for the Citizenship for Charlie J. Hubble top of page left side William Huff line eleven,

1900 Census of the children of William Huff with Ann Huff (Sarfting) half siblings of Catherine Huff Arnold and the other Children of Jane. These would be my white Huff connections. The Uncles and Aunt to my great Grandfather Tom Arnold. The Aunt and Uncles Who Grandma Fleta Arnold Lewis and Aunt Theo stated rejected them as children.

Name:

Ann Sarfting
[Ann Strfting] 

Age:

47

Birth Date:

Aug 1872

Birthplace:

Georgia

Home in 1900:

Militia District 322, Baldwin, Georgia

Race:

White

Gender:

Female

Relation to Head of House:

Head

Marital status:

Married

Marriage Year:

1897

Years Married:

3

Father’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Mother’s Birthplace:

Georgia

Mother: number of living children:

3

Mother: How many children:

3

Occupation:

View on Image

Neighbors:

View others on page

Household Members: