By Luana M. Graves Sellars

Photo Credit | Lloyd Wainscott

It was afternoon, and the sun cast streams of light through the window, as I listened to the soft raspy whisper softened by 93 years of living; time can do to one’s voice. As I focused and listened closely to Harold “Mr. Moon” Young as he concentrated on his words and distant memories of a well-lived life, I was struck by the common threads that connected his stories. He told of the families who lived on Hilton Head and how they were threaded together by love, a sense of community and survival. They were simple, but powerful stories about the Gullah. Yet, each individual, as well as their story, like Mr. Moon’s comes from a different family source; a patriarch or matriarch that establishes the beginning of who we are and what we become. 

Mr. Moon doesn’t remember how he got this name, but according to Morris Campbell, “it’s probably because he used to go fishing in the moonlight.” And so there begins his story. Mr. Moon grew up in historic Mitchelville. He remembers the hard, although simple life growing up on Broad Creek, and working in the fields. He remembers riding his bull, Joe, to school at Honey Horn every morning, and going hunting for raccoon, possum or rabbit, in the afternoon. Hunting was not a sport; he said, you “run them to eat.”  Back then, once the animals were caught, the practice was to bury ice in the ground to keep the meat cold. 

“We had grits every day, but rice was saved for Sunday,” he said. Colds were fought with turpentine and sugar, an empty rice sack could make you three diapers, soap was homemade, and all of the clothes were boiled to get them clean. When I asked about whether he could remember stories from his grandmother Ella Young who raised him, he said “she didn’t have time to tell stories about their lives [or of her parents], she had too much work to do.”  

His comments got me thinking about the stories from a more distant past that he might not know, and whether I could do some ancestral research and share it with him. The island’s first families who were also residents of Mitchelville, is a relatively short list, so armed with the information that Mr. Moon actually lived in Mitchelville, and with the names of his grandparents, Sammy and Ella Young, I set out to find stories about the Young’s first recorded generations. I wanted to see if I could find out more about Mr. Moon’s great great grandparents.  Genealogy research can be an exciting mystery that reveals seductive clues as it slowly brings the past to life. It also can be very frustrating, because sometimes the puzzle being built will never become a complete picture. Missing pieces of data, or documents may never be found due to carelessness and mishandled records, fires, or what I call the dreaded “1865 Slave Wall.” 1865 is the pivotal point in time prior to Emancipation when Black Americans’ lives were not officially documented.

The story of the Young family has some missing pieces, and in genealogy research, this is very common. However, because the island is a relatively small place, and there are relatively few people bearing the ‘Young’ family name, I decided to take a leap of faith, and share the results of my research may (or may not) bridge the information gap. I found four men with the Young surname. Based on what I found about each of the men, there is no specific connection to you or between the men.  (So reads my disclaimer). 

However, Mr. Moon, somehow, I believe this is your family tree. Looking back past your grandparents, Sammy and Ella Young, records show that your great grandmother was Mariah Albright, and her parents were Paul Davis and Clarisa Davis. Looking for Young’s dating as far back as around the year 1863, I found four men who lived on Hilton Head: Tecumsey, Thomas, Jerimiah and Benjamin. The Young line can be described as one that demonstrated fortitude and perseverance. 

Records show that Tecumsey Young and his wife, Maria were savvy enough at 26 years old to open a bank account with the Freedman’s Bank in an effort to save the money that he earned from working for the company Clark & Early, “in shipping and with timber”.  The Freedman’s Savings Bank was a private company that was sponsored by the U. S. government in an effort to provide economic stability to former slaves during reconstruction. A lot of the newly freedman used the program to save money as well as give them the opportunity to establish a primary source of documentation. Unfortunately, the bank failed leaving financially strapped people who had opened accounts without their money; the company was only viable from 1865 to 1874. Genealogically speaking, the Freedman’s Bank Records is a good source for the large amount of family information that is sometimes attached to the registration. 

More information could be found on the other three Young’s, who were not brothers; each of them coming to Hilton Head from different places, however, all of them lived in Mitchelville and then the Spanish Wells area of the island.  Pension records show that Jerimiah, Thomas and Benjamin, were all soldiers in the Civil War. Benjamin and Jerimiah enlisted in the Union Army on the same day and both were in the U. S. Colored Troops Company “B “. Both deserted their units at different times, returning to their regiments during a period of their enlistment. Neither, however, were charged with desertion, possibly because their absence was due to illness.       

Jerimiah, also known as Jerry, was the son of James Young, both of whom were slaves of Squire Harrison of Possom Point, SC. His actual age cannot be determined, but his birth was sometime between 1836 and 1845. His military records don’t say much more, however, after the war, his vision eventually became so impaired that he said, “I can hardly tell a white man from a colored man at a little distance.” 

Thomas Young’s USCT Pension Record

Thomas Young, was the son of Thomas Sr. and born a slave in about 1834 on Telfair Plantation, which eventually became known as Barnwell Plantation in Bluffton. Thomas enlisted on August 31st, 1864 in the US Colored Troops Company H in the 21st Regiment. He was not wounded and did not experience any combat during the war, although a large number of his company was killed on Folly Island. Records show that he contracted rheumatism while his regiment was on Morris Island, as a result of sleeping on the damp ground in wet clothes. He spent time in the Hospital in Mitchelville. 

After the war, Thomas settled down with his wife Betsy, opened a Freedman’s Bank account and spent his life farming their 20 acres on Hilton Head.  Between the rheumatism and severe pains in his head, which was thought to have been why his sight became impaired, he did the best that he could to work the land so that his family could survive. 

1880 US Census – Hilton Head Island
National Archives

It is the story of Benjamin Young, who was born a slave around 1835, that touched my heart. All of his life, he never knew exactly how old he was. His enlistment in the Civil War took him to Knoxville to fight for 5 years. During his service, he said, “that he became deaf from the booming of cannon fire” and only could “hear within one foot” while his regiment was shelling Charleston. After the war he was entitled to a pension, which he partially received, but he was also a victim of U. S. government bureaucracy, and he spent the rest of his life fighting to receive the correct amount of funds that he was owed. 

When he enlisted, Benjamin was not asked for any birth information, and this ultimately affected his ability to get a pension after the war.  There were so many denials in his pension record, that I stopped reading them. However, despite having been denied over and over and over again, Benjamin never gave up trying to get what was his due. The denials from the Department of Interior included memorandum stating that “surgeons should take extreme care in determining hearing power” and that they should “use any medically available tests” and remove all obstructions that “prevent imposition and exaggeration” of hearing capabilities. 

To combat this, Benjamin submitted several Surgical Certificates from doctors to prove how he was disabled from the war. Each time, he was told that his military records did not show proof of his age. Since he was born a slave, he did not have a birth certificate. Considered property, he was just listed as a male with an age. His birth was something that he could never accurately prove. The fact that it was even requested, and the rationale of the denials, was a cruel twist. His determination to keep trying included an attempt to go back to his former owners to see if they could help him prove his age, but they could not.  After his death, his wife Dianah and son Solomon continued trying to resolve the issue, which clearly had become the fight of Benjamin’s life. Both Dianah and Solomon applied separately, petitioning for burial and sickness benefits, and both were also denied. 

There you have it Mr. Moon. It may not be a complete picture, but at least it’s a good start to bringing your family story together. As frustrating as genealogy can be, it also can be rewarding. The missing pieces in the Young line might not be there today, but because information continues to be input daily into the various collections, who knows? In a few months or years, the story might suddenly be complete. Like any good mystery, the detective can’t walk away until it’s solved. Ancestral mysteries are part of our inheritance. Somehow it seems like our responsibility to look back and honor them with being remembered. Besides, if we stop looking into the past, then our family’s stories will just fade away.  

For more articles from the Hilton Head First Families series, click here.

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