Sometimes we all get whacked unexpectedly by something we never expected to be a problem. I was well aware that some Southern Craigheads had been slaveholders but never considered the possibility their Pennsylvania cousins might have been also. Until I read the March 1805 will of Thomas Craighead, eldest son of John Craighead, the first Craighead to settle along the Yellow Breeches Creek in what is now Cumberland County, Pennsylvania that is.
A distant cousin of the Craigheads I have been researching and writing about who lives far from here recently enlisted me to help him research the actual properties certain Craigheads owned and lived upon. Since John Craighead left no will, or at least one that was recorded at the county courthouse, I requested and received a copy of his oldest son Thomas’s will, knowing from the family’s genealogy that he lived on the Mansion farm all his life and likely inherited it from his father. His will verified that he did own the Mansion farm and provided information regarding its size while also identifying other parcels Thomas owned. Bequeaths in the will revealed a truth not known by recent generations.
He left the Mansion farm including “…my cash, bonds, notes, debts, stock, the services of my negroes, and all my other personal property…” to sons Richard and William. William was his youngest son, just eighteen when Thomas died. Richard never married and lived with William and his family the rest of his life. By leaving his negroes to his sons, Thomas Craighead acknowledged the fact they were slaves. If they were free blacks, they wouldn’t have been his property and wouldn’t have been bequeathed to anyone in his will. In an attempt to verify this, I searched Ancestry.com for censuses listing Thomas, Richard and William for the 1800-1820 timeframe. Ancestry.com listed Thomas Craighead Sr. as having three slaves on the 1800 federal census, Richard as having two slaves on the 1810 enumeration, and William as having three “free colored persons” living on the farm in 1820. The shift from slaves to freed black people could have been a result of An Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in 1780. This was all very logical but there was a glitch.
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