Editor’s Note: The research presented in this report was featured in a recent episode of Finding Your Roots on PBS as it followed the ancestry of actress Maya Rudolph.
By Kandie Adkinson, Administrative Specialist, Land Office Division, Office of the Secretary of State
As Researched by The Harrodsburg-Mercer County Oral History Committee
John Meaux was a wealthy plantation owner who moved from Virginia to northern Mercer County circa 1784.
According to a deed dated January 24, 1797, John Meaux of Mercer County conveyed the property where he “formerly lived” in Botetourt County, Virginia, to his son, John G. Meaux. He also conveyed slaves “except such as are now in the state of Kentucky” to his son, John, who by 1797, was also a Mercer County resident. (ref: Mercer Co. DB 2:29)
In his column in The Anderson News entitled “Our Heritage,” historian Wyatt Shely stated “John Meaux, of French origin, was married to Mary Agnes Bacon, probably in Virginia, where Mrs. Meaux is believed to have died before John and his two children, Sallie and Nathaniel Bacon (Meaux), came to Kentucky.” (Note: Deed research indicates John Meaux had another son, John G. Meaux. According to his will, John Meaux’s grandsons were John Woodson Meaux & Richard Meaux.)
In her publication, Stockading Up, Dr. Nancy O. Malley states the location of John Meaux’s Station was described by Robert B. McAfee as “opposite a point one-fourth mile east of the Frankfort Road and one hundred yards north of the road leading to Armstrong’s Ferry from Vandike and Nellen Mill.” Dr. O’Malley further states, “Joseph McCoun had been captured by Indians in 1781 near the station.” A listing of early stations in Kentucky describes the location of John Meaux’s Station as “about two miles south of Salvisa on the west side of U.S. 127, near Vanarsdell in Mercer County.”
In 1795 John Meaux of Mercer County reported the following property for tax purposes: 3 white males above 21 years of age; 40 total Blacks; 21 Blacks under 16 years of age; 25 Horses, Mares, Colts, & Mules; 51 Cattle; and 1 Stud Horse with a covering rate of 24 (dollars or pounds–a high rate compared to other stallions in the area). In 1796 John Meaux was taxed for 522 acres of property that had been patented by James McCoun. The total number of Blacks had increased to 45; obviously they worked the Meaux plantation, and, in all probability, they worked with the horses. (Research always leads to more research. Was John Meaux involved in the horse racing industry in early Kentucky? Did his Mercer County property include a practice or race track?)
Between 1801 and 1802, John Meaux had acquired 115 additional acres patented to McCoun and 918 acres patented by John Edwards “on the waters of the Chaplin.” On the 1810 Mercer County Tax Lists, he reported ownership of 637 acres on Salt River patented to McCoun; 500 acres on the Chaplin River patented to John Edwards; 318 acres on the Kentucky River patented to S. Bell; 184 acres on Salt River patented to James Kinkead; and a 212 acre tract on the Kentucky River patented to Bell. His total land ownership in 1810 had increased to 1851 acres. There were 3 white males over 21 in the household. His taxable property also included 25 Blacks over 16 years of age, 59 total Blacks, and 44 Horses. Obviously John Meaux had moved his plantation-style farming operation to Mercer County and was engaged in buying and selling of property. The proximity of his land to the Kentucky River afforded Meaux the opportunity to sell his crops in markets along the Kentucky, the Ohio, and the Mississippi Rivers all the way to New Orleans.
In her book Rock Fences of the Bluegrass, Caroline Murray-Wooley states “Oral tradition indicates that two additional cultural groups participated in building rock fences in isolated cases…French-speaking blacks from the Caribbean islands with the family names of Meaux and Trumbo built rock fences in Boyle County. They lived in a settlement on Pope Road, in small stone houses surrounded by rock fences. The 1860 census of neighboring Mercer County, which lists black stonemason Robin Meaux, then 58 years old, supports this information.” (John G. Meaux patented land near Dix River in the Boyle County area.) Once again, research prompts more research. Were slaves owned by John Meaux transported from the Caribbean to Virginia or were they purchased from slave traders in New Orleans or along the Mississippi River or in other slave markets such as Lexington, Harrodsburg, or Danville? Is the surname Dismukes, prominent in the Burgin and Boyle County area, a derivation of the surname Meaux? If so, “des Meaux” could prompt further research in French-speaking Caribbean Islands as well as Meaux, France.
In 1826 John Meaux reported ownership of 2402 acres of land on Salt River in Mercer County for tax purposes. The land had been patented by J. Edwards. There were 2 white males over 21 in the household. He also reported ownership of 45 Blacks over 16, 76 total Blacks, & 25 horses and colts. The total value was 18352 (dollars or pounds). One year later, in 1827, his properties included 1241 acres patented by James McCoun, 2402 acres on the Chaplin River patented by John Edwards, 31 Blacks over 16, 60 total Blacks, and 25 Horses, Mares, & Mules, all of which were valued at 32,500.00 (dollars or pounds). He was definitely a wealthy man. But it was not what he did during his working years that defined his legacy, it was what he did at the end of his life that separates John Meaux from many other plantation owners of his era.
On October 23, 1826, John Meaux, of Mercer County, made his last Will and Testament. First, he directed all the slaves of which he died possessed as the owner, “to be forever emancipated and set free being sixty-one in number and now in (his) possession, and the increase of the females, also, hereafter to be born.” He further directed his executors, John G. Meaux & Nathaniel B. Meaux and his friend, John B. Thompson, to “bound out” the younger slaves to trades. Except for ten cows and ten ewes for each of his grandsons, John Woodson Meaux & Richard Meaux, John Meaux directed the remaining stock, crop, and plantation tools and utensils “to be divided among his negroes hereby emancipated.” He also directed his executors to sell “the land I purchased of Edwards” that had not been previously “conveyed away,” as soon as the Title was settled; all household and kitchen furniture was ordered to be sold. The proceeds from all sales were to be applied, by his executors, to the use of his slaves “hereby emancipated.” The will of John Meaux was witnessed by Lanty Holman & Richard Holman.
In a codicil dated June 8, 1828, John Meaux gave John B. Thompson a sum of $529.50 to “defray the expenses and charges necessary to the freedom of (his) negroes” and authorized him to “lay out all money deposited with him after paying the expenses and charges, and also the money arising from the sale of (his) estate before directed in the will, in lands in Indiana, Ohio, or some other free state for the use and benefit of his slave in such proportions to each family as he deemed right and proper.” (ref: Mercer County Will Book 9, pgs 272-274) Note: The “John Meaux Property Division” in 1837 and subsequent deeds indicate most of the former slaves opted to stay in Mercer County rather than move to “Indiana, Ohio, or some other free state.” The last will and testament of John Meaux, deceased, and the codicil attached were recorded with the Kentucky Court of Appeals on January 7, 1830. (ref: Bundle T34, Mercer Circuit Court Records, Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives, Frankfort, Ky.)
The Inventory and Appraisement of the Estate of John Meaux, deceased, dated February 9, 1830, is recorded in Mercer County Will Book 9, pgs 301-305. The total value was $2131.0075 excluding the value of the emancipated slaves. The report of the distribution of the Inventory & Appraisement of the John Meaux Estate, filed by the Executors, is recorded in Mercer County Will Book 9, pgs 508+.
A document entitled “An Inventory of the Negroes emancipated by the will of John Meaux, deceased, by families together with an Inventory of property distributed to them by the Executors,” recorded with the court on April, 1830, begins on page 305 of Mercer County Will Book 9. Property distributed to the heads-of-household may have included a horse, plow, cows, bacon, corn, farming utensils, baskets, yarn, or other household items.
Slaves emancipated in the will, and their approximate ages, included:
- Tom (about 65) & his wife Tempy Black;
- Lewis (about 75), who was directed to live with his son, Sawney;
- Squire (about 50);
- Sam (about 45) & his wife, Temply (age about 50) and their children, Julius (age 17), Clarissa (age 14), Drucilla (age 8), and Bartlett (age 5);
- Margaret, (about 80) to live with Sam;
- Joe (about 42) & his wife, Winney (about 40), and their children: Sis (about 9), Melissa (about 8), Wyatt (about 6), Augusta (about 5), Jordan (about 4), Spy (about 2 1/2), and Charlotte (about 9 months). Aggy (about 75) to live with Joe;
- John White (about 45) & his wife (Anny) and their child, Amanda (about 4);
- Reuben (about 36) & his wife, Fanny, and their children: Betsy (about 6) & Isaac (about 3 or 4);
- Patrick (about 30) & his wife, Delila, and their children: Fanny (about 10), Jonas/James? (about 8), Calisto (about 6), Nancy (about 3), Eliza (about 18 months), and a child four days old;
- John Black (about 31) & his wife, Lucinda (about 21) and their children: Harvey (“near 5”), George (age 2), and Eliza Jane (about two months);
- Sawney (about 35) & his wife, Aggy (about 20), and their children: Jesse (about 4) and William (about 2);
- Humphrey Lewis (about 21) & his wife Maria (about 20) and their children Jeremiah (about 6 months old) and Martha (about 2 years old);
- Gideon (about 50);
- Robin (about 40);
- Tom (about 23);
- Anthony (about 23);
- Philip (about 29);
- Humphrey Black (to receive nothing but thread for clothing);
- Frank (about 28) was allotted yarn for clothing;
- David (about 45);
- Cato (about 30) was allotted 50 pounds of bacon;
- Alfred (about 18) was allotted cotton & yarn thread for clothing;
- Jacob (about 18) was allotted cotton & yarn thread
- Kitty (about 26) & her children, Evelina (about 6), Gabriel (about 4), and Jeremiah (about 2) were allotted a cow, little wheel, hoe, 200 pounds of bacon and four barrels of corn.
- Silvey (about 26) & her children, Cornelius (about 6) and Isaac (about 2).
The total property allotted to the former slaves, exclusive of the property for common use, was valued at $709.32. All of the yarn and thread of every description was distributed among the former slaves “for the purpose of making their clothing.” Common property included one cart and oxen, a barrel of salt, and all the bags and baskets “for their use.” The property was distributed on or before February 22, 1830, according to John G. Allin & Lanty Holman.
In her typed listing of slaves, their approximate ages & birth year, stated relationship, and allotment (available for research at the Harrodsburg Historical Society), Mercer County Historian Frances B. Keightley Moseley stated in her introductory paragraph, “The estate was reportedly litigated for decades, and the Mercer County Court records likely hold numerous accounts of the African-American Meaux families waiting to be researched.” The Harrodsburg-Mercer County Oral History Committee considered it an honor to accept Mrs. Moseley’s research challenge.
Our findings verify the Last Will & Testament of John Meaux was, indeed, challenged in Mercer Circuit Court. Although the Circuit Court rejected the Will emancipating about 60 slaves, the decision was reversed by the Kentucky Supreme Court with Chief Justice Robertson delivering the opinion of the Court. A marginal notation regarding Black v . Meaux in Dana’s Reports, Spring Term, 1836, reads in part, “A colored man (Humphrey Black) who was emancipated by the last will of his master, remained with and labored for the defendant (John Woodson Meaux, grandson of John Meaux) during the period of a controversy as to the validity of the will. After the will was established, he sued the defendant for the value of his labor and proved the above facts, and that defendant had said, though not to the plaintiff, that, if the will was established, he would pay him for his services; as there was a moral obligation on the defendant to pay the plaintiff for valuable services, the jury might infer from the evidence there was a contract….” In the first paragraph of their decision, the Kentucky Supreme Court directed the Mercer County Court to record the Last Will & Testament of John Meaux. The court then ruled the emancipated slave could enter into contracts for labor. The court remanded the case of Black v. Meaux (for payment of services pursuant to the contract) to the Mercer Circuit Court. Mr. Owsley & Mr. Cunningham presented the case for the plaintiff (Humphrey Black) before the Kentucky Supreme Court. Mr. Daviess was the attorney for the defendant (John W. Meaux).
Following the Supreme Court decision in 1836, the freed slaves filed a bill in Mercer Chancery Court styled “Tempe &c vs Meaux &c” that requested the executors of the John Meaux estate to divide and partition the lands Meaux purchased from Edwards “for the benefit of the heads of the families of the negroes emancipated.” On the jacket of the court case, now housed at the Department for Libraries & Archives in Frankfort in Bundle T34, Mercer Circuit Court Records, a notation dated 1838, reads “As it is agreed by the parties by their counsel that all the matters relative to the personal estate involved in this Suit have been settled and adjusted by the parties, the Bill as to this matter should be dismissed. There should be a decree for the partition of the real estate.” The plat and division of property prepared by James C. Westerfield in March & August 1834, validated the indentures recorded circa 1837 in which John Thompson transferred title to land on the waters of Chaplin River & Salt River to the former slaves of John Meaux and others recorded in Mercer County Deed Book 20.
When the plat was located at the Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives, the Harrodsburg-Mercer County Oral History Commission commissioned a local surveyor, Kendal Wise of Vantage Engineering, to create an exhibit that depicted the following: (1) Virginia Land Patent 8133 granted to John Edwards by Edmund Randolph that conveyed 3002 acres of land “on the waters of Salt River & Chaplin’s Fork” in what was then Lincoln County on August 25, 1788; the division of the remainder of the Edwards tract bequeathed to the former slaves of John Meaux; and (3) the division of the Kitty Meaux tract among her five children (Evaline, Gabriel, Jerry, Tempy, & Vance) and her husband, Griffin, who was in servitude to Vance Wilson.
According to Mr. Wise’s plat, the John Meaux Property Division includes most of Central Pike and the east and west sides of Indian Creek Road. Certain landmarks along Central Pike near Mayo confirm the surveyor’s placement of the property conveyed to the former slaves. Dividing Ridge Baptist Church, established circa 1870, and Meaux Chapel AME Church established before 1870 share a cemetery on Central Pike. The school for black students in Mayo is also located on Central Pike. Note: When the school closed at the end of the 1951-1952 school year, students were transferred to West Side School in Harrodsburg. Some received their secondary schooling at Lincoln Institute in Simpsonville.
Many of the descendants of the former slaves of John Meaux still reside in Mercer County. By using family history, census records, and deeds, perhaps those descendants will now be able to locate the land that enabled their ancestors to leave a life of slavery for a life of freedom and opportunity nearly thirty years before the Civil War.
John Meaux (1734-1828) is buried in New Providence Presbyterian Church Cemetery. His name is included on a plaque at the Old Fort Cemetery that identifies those who served in the Revolutionary War who rest in Mercer County.
The plat and supporting documents are available for research at the Mercer County Public Library, Harrodsburg Historical Society, Kentucky History Center (Frankfort), the Kentucky Department for Libraries & Archives (Frankfort), and Kentucky State University Library (Frankfort). Click here to download a pdf version of the Plat Exhibit: 680001 MEAUX EXHIBIT
Lot 1: Silvey
Lot 2: Tempy WhiteLot 1: Silvey
Lot 3: John Black Meaux
Lot 4: Joseph Meaux
Lot 5: Kitty
Lot 6: Reuben
Lot 7: Sawney Meaux
Lot 8: Joseph Meaux
Lot 9: Humphrey Lewis Meaux
Lot 10: Caleb Kelly (white)
Lot 11: John White Meaux
Lot 12: Thomas Winfrey Meaux
Lot 13: Patrick
About the Author: Ms. Adkinson’s 35 years of public service have been dedicated to Kentucky Land Patents. For 6.5 years she worked at the Kentucky Historical Society in the Records Preservation Lab. She has been associated with the Secretary of State’s Land Office since 1984. In 2011 the Kentucky Historical Society presented Kandie the Anne Walker Fitzgerald Award for her articles regarding tax list research published in “Kentucky Ancestors.”