© 2019 by Laurel Wilson, MHP

Early Decatur African Americans

An 1831 Census of Georgia revealed that in that year, DeKalb County had a white population of 9,020 and a black population of 1,867, meaning approximately 17% of the County's population was enslaved.

 

The 1840 Census of DeKalb County listed 349 of its 1,406 households--19.8%--as enslaving at least one person. One individual named Francis Irvin enslaved 74 people in District 530. There were a total of 7 free African Americans in DeKalb County in 1840.


The 1850 Census of Decatur includes the names of three free African Americans: Serena Robinson, Polly Smith (13 or 19), and a 50 year-old man [? Douglap?]. Serena Robinson also appears in the DeKalb County Inferior Court Register of Free Persons of Color from 1851-1857. She was originally from Kershaw County, South Carolina and was 32 years old in 1850.


In 1860, a 35 year-old horse trainer named Preston Webb is listed in the Census of Decatur.
 

Henry Oliver [1826-1904]

One prominent early African American of Decatur was Henry Oliver. A blacksmith by trade, mystery surrounds the man, who is mentioned in Mary Gay's Life in Dixie During the War as "Decatur's Henry Oliver" (p. 145). Local legend tells that Henry Oliver, which was a name he chose for himself after emancipation, at some point was given a large portion of land in Decatur by his enslaver who was also his father. He continued his blacksmithing but also sold much of this land to both black and white residents and was known as a successful businessman.

He was such a respected figure in Decatur during his lifetime that a major road, which runs through the center of town, was named Oliver Street after him in 1902. This name stayed in place until 1984 when the town commission voted to change the name to Commerce. As of 2018, a conference room at the Courtland Atlanta Decatur hotel is named after him, as is a senior living center named Oliver House, which is located in what was once the Beacon community.

Henry Oliver Iron
An iron belonging to Henry Oliver.

Courtesy of Sylvia Ann Kemp Clark
Henry Oliver Horseshoe
A horseshoe that Henry Oliver made.

Courtesy of Sylvia Ann Kemp Clark
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Images courtesy of Sylvia Clark
Sallie Durham and 4 generations of descendants

Sallie Thomas Durham [~1850-1934]

Sallie Durham was born Sarah Thomas to mother Clarissa Thomas and an unknown father in Athens, Georgia. Born into slavery, she first appears free, along with her children Clara and Mark, in 1870 in Athens as a domestic for lawyer and two-term US Congressman Junius Hillyer.

 

In the 1870s, at approximately the same time that Hillyer moved to Decatur, Georgia, Sarah (now Sallie) also moved to Decatur with her two children. In 1874, she married Sylvester "Vesta" Durham in DeKalb County. She began her own successful catering business in Decatur with clientele consisting of well-established white residents, including some of her own family members. You can learn more about Sallie and her descendants in the documentary 5 Generations: From Enslavement to Public Service in Atlanta.

Image courtesy Clara Axam

Slavery

Decatur has been the seat of DeKalb County since the town's creation in 1823. Throughout the era of slavery, a courthouse stood in the center of town for all but the years 1842-1847 when it was being rebuilt due to a fire. In DeKalb County, all sales and auctions took place on the first Tuesday of the month at the door of the Decatur Courthouse. During the years of 1842-1847, while the new courthouse was under construction, these sales presumably took place in another officially designated location in Decatur.

Notice in ad section of Georgia Journal, 6 May 1823
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It may never be possible to know all of the names of those human beings who were sold in Decatur as material possessions, but thanks to advertisements for auctions and sales in the county, we do know the names and ages of nearly 200 individuals who were put through this horror. The following are the names and ages (when available) of the people who were sold at the door of the Decatur Courthouse. The oldest person was 65 and the youngest a mere 20 days old:

1831

  • Dick, M, 24

  • Mill, F, 20

  • Clary, F, 13 (Mill’s daughter)

1832

  • Ned, M, 52

  • Hannah, F, 18

  • Hannah’s child, 20 days

  • Alexander, M

1834

  • Milly, F, 40 or 45

  • Arthur, M, 13 (Arthur was sold at this auction but Milly was not)

1835

  • Edmund, M, 26

  • Stephen, M, 21

  • Fan, F, 65

  • Phebe, F, 40

1838

  • Phil or Philip, M, 45

1840

  • Hannah, F, 20

  • Silva, F, 19

  • Pauline, F, 16

  • Mica, F, 12

  • Winna, F, 23

  • Sintha, F, 10

  • Frances, 8

  • Willis, M, 5

  • Mary, F, 2

  • George, M, 2

  • Ben, M, 30

  • Ann, F, 28

  • Tom, M, 60

  • Milly, F, 50

  • Martha, F, 16

  • Isaac, M, 12

1841

  • Lina, F

  • Anthony, M (Lina's son)

  • William, M (Lina's son)

  • Manda, F (Lina's daughter)

  • Harriet Eliza, F (Lina's daughter)

  • Jenney, F, 40

  • Eliza, F, 16

  • Mary, F, 9

  • Caroline, F, 7

  • Westly, M, 10

  • Nancy, F, 2

  • Lewis, M, 6

  • George, M, 4

  • Henny, F, 27

  • Henny's child, 2 or 3 months

  • Jinny, F, 38

  • Catherine, F, 9 or 10

  • Bob, M, 40

  • Ned, M, 28 (tanner)

  • Hampshire, M, 22

  • Harriet, F, 18

  • Harriet's child, 3

  • Harriet's child, 8 months

  • Sandy, M, 17

  • Lucy, F, 28

  • Levi, M, 10

  • Jim, M, 8

  • Martha Ann, F, 2

  • Pamela, F, 9

1842

  • Fany, F

  • Fany's child

  • Tom, M

  • Orinda, F

  • Clary, 60

  • Sue, F, 35

  • Turner, M, 18

  • Cipio, 15

  • Gurdine, 10

  • Caroline, F, 8

  • Levy, 5

  • Mary, F, 3

  • Isaac, M, 2

  • Allen, M, 22 (blacksmith)

  • Emily aka Roda, F, 16

  • Silva, F, 14

  • Edda, F, 35

  • Martha, F, 12

  • Charity, F

  • Charity's child

  • Silas, M, 15

  • Doctor, M, 12

  • Mary, F, 8

  • Christy, F, 6

  • Clark, M, 4 months

  • Betsey, F

  • Anny, F

  • Amey, F

  • Cintha, F

  • [Julius?]

  • Mary, F, 24

  • America, F, 6

  • Harrison, M, 3

  • Andrew, M, 1

  • Daniel, M, 35

  • Eliza, F, 16

  • Jerry, M, 5 or 6

  • Pamelia, F, 18

  • Pamelia's infant

  • Henry, M

  • Eliza, F

  • Robbin, F

  • Nanney, F

  • William, M

  • Big Eliza, F

  • Jinney, F

  • Jacob, M

  • Luck

  • Jim, M, 25

  • Peter, M, 20

  • Sal or Sally, F, 19 or 20

  • George, M, 45

1843

  • Jinney, F

  • Sally, F, 28

  • Edy, F, 35

  • Jack, M, 24

  • Mary, F, 18

  • Rachel, F, 16

  • Maria, F, 16

  • Dinah, F, 23

  • Sam, M, 40

  • Jacob, M, 40

  • Jinny, F, 37

  • Maria, F, 16

  • Celia, F, 15

  • Susan, F, 35

  • Malinda, F, 6 or 7

1854

  • Anderson, M, 16

  • Martha, F, 25

  • Ann, F, 11

  • Tom, M, 45

  • Mary, F, 27

  • John, M, 21

  • Titus, M, 40

  • Amanda, F, 4

  • Newton, M, 18 months

1855

  • Green, M, 11

  • Frank, M, 40

  • Carry, F, 30

  • Carry's son, under 8

  • Carry's son, under 8

  • Carry's daughter, under 8

  • Carry's daughter, under 8

  • Jacob, M, 27

  • Lewis, M, 25

  • George, M, 2

  • Lem, 20

  • Ann, F, 18

  • Ann's child

  • Ann's child

  • Prince, M, 17

  • Mariah, F, 16

  • Green, M, 14

  • King, M, 13

  • Jeff, M, 10

  • Jesse, 8

  • Viney, F, 36

  • Harriett, F, 14 months (Viney's daughter)

  • Lucy, F, 10

1859

  • Holland, M, 17

  • Franky, F, 9

  • Charles, M, 5

  • Milly, F, 37 or 38

  • Raney, F, 36 or 37

  • Martha, F, 2 and a half

  • Israel, M, 41

  • Robin, M, 33

  • Henry, M, 30

  • Isom, M, 22

  • Guilford, M, 10

  • Tilly, F, 43

  • Phillis, F, 25

  • Phillis' child

  • Phillis' child

  • Jim, M, 4 years, 6 months

  • Martha Jane, F, 1 year, 4 months

1862

  • Dan, M, 25

  • Henry, M, 25

  • Jerry, M, 16

  • Caroline, F, 22

  • Caroline's child

1863

  • Champ, M, 34

  • Henry, M, 32

  • Millie, F, 33

  • Mary, F, 8 (Millie's daughter)

  • Andy, M, 5 (Millie's son)

  • Fayette, M, 1 (Millie's son)