It’s time to re-tell this tale
My own family have thought a lot more about race, privilege, status in the last few years by meeting our Black cousins
Not virtue signaling or showing anything grand or super about me and mine
Just glad to know the full history, acknowledge it, and try to do better than past generations
Some of you know about the revelations of the last three years or so with part of my family. Faulkner won a Nobel Prize writing fictionalized versions of such. Truth will out. Blood will out. The motto of this portion of my family is “I am as faithful as I am strong.” Here is to the faith and strength of our ancestors. They haunt us still.
In the mid-1700s, a Scots Irish Protestant named Alexander Rosborough came over to what was then the South Carolina colony from County Antrim, Ireland. Like many of his fellow Scots Irish, he left the land of his youth seeking opportunity in the New World.
He made his way directly to Charleston, South Carolina. By the time he arrived in Charleston, most of the land around the Lowcountry had been taken by the first generations of Europeans to arrive, many having been issued King’s Grants for land stretching from the Savannah River to the Pee Dee. Like many second and third wave immigrants, Alexander and his family acquired property in the further western parts of South Carolina, specifically in what was then known as the Fairfield District, later to be called Fairfield County.
I am his direct descendant.
That part of South Carolina is a mix of cultures. Often described as being where the Lowcountry meets the Upcountry, Fairfield County was settled by Scots Irish immigrants, second and third generation Lowcountry residents of English and French descent, and a large sprinkling of Germans who settled in the upper reaches of what was then known as the Dutch Fork. These Europeans brought with them large numbers of enslaved Africans. It was the slaves who cut the trees, plowed the fields, built the churches and homes, and enriched their owners. Many of these early settlers became wealthy planters whose cotton holdings were great and profitable until the end of slavery. They sent their sons to Harvard and Yale. They took their daughters to Newport and Saratoga. The Grand Tour was not unknown.
It all vanished after Lee surrendered.
Much of my knowledge of our Rosborough family history comes from the detailed genealogical research done by the man we called “Uncle” Charles, being Charles Edward Thomas, my cousin a couple of times over and another direct descendant of Alexander Rosborough.
Uncle Charles wrote the definitive family narrative entitled The Rosborough Family in Fairfield County, Ridgeway, SC. Uncle Charles gave a copy of that family history to my grandparents in 1973 soon after he finished it. In the upper corner of my faded yellow copy, in his own handwriting Uncle Charles scribbled in cursive “For Arthur and Emma, 15 August 1973 C.E.T.” Uncle Charles had been a Navy man. He was a graduate of Sewanee. He loved researching all of his ancestors. He would espouse for hours and hours on every person to whom we were related. He knew them all.
Uncle Charles wrote that Alexander Rosborough emigrated to Charleston after having married Jane Fears in Ireland. They had only had one son, John Rosborough. We think that John was born in South Carolina, but we are not sure. We know that John married Anne Cubit of Beaufort, South Carolina, my hometown, sometime in the 1780s. She was the daughter of John Cubit an English sea-captain who died at Beaufort and is buried under St. Helena’s church. Growing up, my mother always told me we had people buried at St. Helena’s. She was right.
After their marriage, John moved his new wife, Anne, to the family’s lands in the Fairfield District where they settled on their property near Cedar Creek. They are considered the founders of the small town of Ridgeway, South Carolina, where I had relatives from its founding until our last cousin by marriage moved away a few years ago. Our family had a good run of over two hundred years in that part of South Carolina. We now only have relatives in the Aimwell Cemetery and in the churchyard of St. Stephen’s.
In the old Mills map of South Carolina counties, the Rosborough name appears several times in and around Ridgeway.
In Dr. George Howe’s History of the Presbyterian Church in South Carolina (Columbia, SC, 1870), John Rosborough is listed as the first Elder of Aimwell Presbyterian Church either in 1799 or 1790. We think it is the earlier date. The historical marker in the old Aimwell Cemetery in Ridgeway, South Carolina, confirms that history and the family history.
In A Fairfield Sketchbook, by Julian Stevenson Bolick (Clinton, South Carolina, 1963), Uncle Charles authored “Ridgeway’s First Settlers”, pp. 20-23. He wrote as follows:
The earliest settlers of the Ridgeway areas of lower Fairfield District appear to have been Scotch-Irish Presbyterians. In Doctor George Howe’s HISTORY OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH IN SOUTH CAROLINA (Columbia, 1870), he states, “In October 1799, a society on Cedar Creek petitions supplies, and prays it may be known on the minutes of the Presbytery by the name of AIMWELL” However, in the old Session Book of the Aimwell Presbyterian Church in Ridgeway is the statement, “On the first Saturday in January, 1840, the semicentenary was observed and 63 dollars was subscribed for the board of publication.” This places the origins of Aimwell Church as 1790.
When John Rosborough and his wife, Anne Cubit, moved to Ridgeway ….they “brought with them a fervent desire to organize a church,” wrote Mrs. E.D. Goodson for the 150th anniversary of Aimwell in 1940. The first services were held in the Rosborough’s home on the site of the present Century House in the town of Ridgeway…Following the Reverend Mr. Reed, Aimwell was served by the Reverend William G. Rosborough, [a Rosborough cousin] who, Howe tells us, was prepared at Mount Zion College, and received under the care of the Presbytery in April 1793….
Early members of Aimwell and residents of lower Fairfield District were the Rosboroughs, Robinsons, Craigs, Kennedys, Hoods, Walkers, Gozas, Hunters, Campbells, Clevelands, Boulwares, and Colemans. Some of the first settlers had come from Scotland and Ireland by way of Virginia and North Carolina, whereas others like John Rosborough, had come directly to South Carolina by way of Charleston from Ireland …. He married Anne Cubit of Carolina after she came to Beaufort with her English sea captain father.
In 1834, Mr. Thomas [Samuel Peyre Thomas formerly of St. Stephen’s Parish, Charleston District] married Jane Fears Rosborough, daughter of John Rosborough, whom he describes in another letter, now also in the Harvard Library Archives, as “one of the most estimable men, and most correct in principle, that I ever knew.”
Charles Edward Thomas, in A Fairfield Sketchbook, supra.
In addition to the homeplace where the present-day Century House is located in Ridgeway, John Rosborough owned lands just east of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, extending from the Longtown Highway to the Great Falls Highway and to what was then known as the Hunter Place. John Rosborough died at Ridgeway October 8, 1842. Anne Cubit Rosborough had predeceased her husband, having died at Ridgeway on December 5, 1841. Both Anne Cubit Rosborough and John Rosborough are buried at the old Aimwell Cemetery in Ridgeway, as are numerous members of the family, including Jane Fears Rosborough Thomas and her husband, Samuel Peyre Thomas, the original Thomas family connection to the Rosboroughs. There would be other generations that intermarried, too.
At the time of his death, John Rosborough owned Magnolia Plantation, among others, outside of Ridgeway. There is still a part of Ridgeway known as “Little Magnolia” out towards the Great Falls Highway. Magnolia has long been out of the family.
John and Anne had several children, including my connection to them, their son, Robert Reed Rosborough, who is my either four or fives greats grandfather. I think his middle name comes from the Reverend Reed, first pastor of the Aimwell Presbyterian Church.
In addition to Robert Reed Rosborough, there were the following children born of that marriage of John and Anne:
Jennet Rosborough Kennedy
James Thomas Rosborough
Jane Fears Rosborough Thomas
John Cubit Rosborough
In the family history as written by Uncle Charles the following is written for my four or five greats uncle, John Cubit Rosborough:
John Cubit Rosborough, born Jan. 23, 1801, died November 12, 1860. Unmarried. No issue.
It’s a lie.
In this day and age of Twenty Three and Me, Ancestry.com, and all manner of social media, we have made connections with wider cousins.
I saw on social media, that a friend of a friend commented on that friend’s posting. That friend of a friend spelled her last name Rosborough. It’s not a common name. I then sent that Rosborough connection a message. Sure enough, she, too, was a descendant of Robert Reed Rosborough. She grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. She knew some of my grandfather’s cousins and knew how we were all related. Another cousin in Columbia, South Carolina, confirmed our connection. We shared emails and contact information
One day, this newly found cousin sent me a simple question, “Have you met Jerome?”
I replied that I had not.
So, in another message, she wrote, “Jerome, meet your cousin, Hamlin O’Kelley. Hamlin, meet your cousin, Jerome Roseborough. (He spells it with an “e”)”
Jerome is the direct descendant of John Cubit Rosborough and an enslaved African woman named Maria or Mariah. She is listed in the censuses of the day as being the property of John Cubit Rosborough, Magnolia Plantation, Fairfield County. Both spellings of Maria/Mariah are shown in the census records. Her children are listed below her name. The Three Fifths Compromise was still in effect during those census years; only 3/5 of Maria/Mariah actually counted as a human being.
Let me say it again, Jerome’s three, four, five greats grandfather (whichever he may be) owned his three, four, five greats grandmother. Owned. As property. Completely owned. He also would later own his children, all five of whom he had with Maria/Mariah. They were never married. They could not be married. Not legally. They could not be taught to read. They could not be taught to write. They could not leave the plantation without a pass or a badge. They could not inherit from John Cubit Rosborough or from Maria/Mariah.
Interestingly, John Cubit Rosborough established a trust for Maria/Mariah and her children so that they would remain on Magnolia Plantation after his death. Imagine. My however many greats uncle set up a legally binding instrument to look after the mother of his children and to look after his children. He had to go to a lawyer to do this.
What could he have told that lawyer in the 1850s in South Carolina?
After John Cubit Rosborough’s death, Maria/Mariah and her children became the property of my four or five greats grandfather, Robert Reed Rosborough. By will. By law. By right. By descent. By fiat of his brother’s will and by the trust established for them. Robert Reed Rosborough inherited Magnolia Plantation from his brother, along with Maria/Mariah and his own blood kin.
How must have it been to own your own nieces and nephews?
How must have it have felt to have your own uncle be your master?
How must have it felt to know your cousins could force you do to their will, or face punishment, including corporal punishment, allowed under the laws and customs of the day?
We will never know.
This lore that Jerome has since told me has proven to be true by independent sources due to a lawsuit brought by Robert Reed Rosborough in the aftermath of the Civil War. Apparently, my so many greats grandfather objected to certain portions of his brother’s will that he was still trying to execute.
In 1871, the South Carolina Supreme Court decided the case of Rosborough v. Rutland, 2 S.C. 378 (S.C. 1871). In that case, there is a direct reference to the trust established for certain slaves by the will of John Cubit Rosborough. Those certain slaves are not named. In that case, the facts recited tell us that John Cubit Rosborough devised a plantation to Robert Reed Rosborough with certain slaves by name and, if, Robert Reed Rosborough tried to depart from the terms of the will, e.g., tried to avoid the trust for Maria/Mariah and her children, then he would forfeit the plantation. The case references the Freedman’s Bureau established for former slaves, too. The case was more concerned with cash payments to be made under the terms of the will and the devise of other slaves to other family members, all of which had been made moot by The Big Gun Shoot. The case does not tell us what became of the trust or its beneficiaries. My cousin Jerome knows.
Apparently, Maria/Mariah and her children eventually made it to Texas. The name Alexander appears regularly in that branch of the family, the name which our original immigrant ancestor brought with him from Ireland. This is not a coincidence. We Southerners are death on family names.
I have to surmise that Uncle Charles, who was a devoted researcher of all things genealogical, had to have known about John Cubit Rosborough and Maria/Mariah. I have to surmise that “Unmarried; No Issue” was a true white wash, term used specifically and with intent on my part, as to the greater history of our family. Uncle Charles went to Texas in the 1930’s to visit the Rosborough cousins descended from James Thomas Rosborough. He never mentioned visiting or attempting to visit those other Rosborough cousins descended from John Cubit Rosborough and Maria/Mariah. I think Uncle Charles had to have known something about these cousins, too. Again, we will never know.
Over Memorial Day weekend, 2017, I traveled to Ridgeway, South Carolina, to meet my fifth or sixth cousin, Jerome Roseborough. I watched as he knelt at the grave of John Cubit Rosborough. I watched as he touched the ground. I watched as he processed in silent prayer. I watched my cousin Manny, short for Marion, now in her 80’s herself and one of my all time favorites, also process that she, a woman who grew up in a highly segregated South, had now met a cousin whose skin was a few shades darker than hers. Manny hugged and kissed and exulted over Jerome. But, I was not surprised by that one bit. It turns out that Jerome had been in touch with Manny and her sisters for some time. I was late to the party.
On that steamy May morning, we lily white Rosborough descendants showed Jerome Roseborough around Aimwell Cemetery. We showed him the old thin graves marking the tombs of Alexander, Jane, John, Anne, Jane Fears, Samuel Peyre. We showed him later generations of further Rosborough kin all of whom are buried at Aimwell. We took Jerome to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church to show him his cousins, there, too, as Rosboroughs intermarried with Thomases and Edmunds and other parishoners of that church for generations. We showed him the Rosborough and Thomas relative who was the first Southerner to resign his commission at Annapolis at the outbreak of the Late Unpleasantness. That cousin had that once-proud distinction written on his grave. What a shock to the system for a United States Marine descended from both slave and master. We took Jerome to see the old Rosborough House that my great-aunt and great-uncle restored in the 1970s. We took him to the Century House, where John Cubit’s father’s house once stood. We told him family lore. We hugged. We laughed. We took pictures. We acknowledged our cousinhood. We opened our arms. He came right in.
That same weekend, Jerome traveled to Charleston, South Carolina, where he had lunch with my mother and my aunt, whose name is Eloise Rosborough Heins. She goes by Rosborough.
Later in the summer, I was visiting with another set of Rosborough cousins who were in Charleston staying out at Sullivans Island. One cousin incredulously interrogated me about Jerome.
“Why in the world would you go meet him?” she asked. “Is he a con man? There is no way we are related to black people. Lucky our grandparents are dead, because this would kill them.” I don’t think so, dear cousin. I really don’t think so. I am proud to look upon our family history, unvarnished and exposed. Finally. We are richer for knowing the truth. We are richer for knowing Jerome.
The cousin in question and I share the same coloring, the same blue eyes, the same light colored hair.
Apparently, we do not share the same ability to deny history.
Jerome actually connected to the family through our shared blood, our shared DNA. No con could work. Another whiter cousin had also submitted a sample, and, the algorithms did the rest of the work, connecting genes to genes, family with family, blood to blood.
Amazingly, one swab from the side of a cheek led us to know that we are straight out of a Faulkner novel.
The Sutpens have nothing on us.
I have so many questions.
Did Maria/Mariah act as mistress at Magnolia?
Was John Cubit Rosborough a loving father or a tyrannical master or more complicated?
How did John Cubit Rosborough feel introducing his children to his sisters and brothers in that super small world in which they lived?
Why would John Cubit Rosborough make an elaborate trust for Maria/Mariah and her children if he only considered them property?
As they were forbidden to be married, was the trust his way to take care of them?
How could the rest of the family not have known who fathered Maria/Mariah’s children?
Did they look like their father?
Were they present at Magnolia when siblings came to call?
Were they shunted off to the quarters and told to hide?
Did my own direct ancestors know they owned their cousins?
Were further generations of the family kept from knowing about this?
How many other Southern families who once owned other enslaved humans had similar stories?
What conditions had they lived under?
Was their preferential treatment?
Were they given any form of education?
Would this make a believable novel? And, who would buy it besides Thylias Moss, one of my English teachers at Andover who always discussed this exact scenario in our Senior year class where we explored the trope of The Other in literature?
When did Maria/Mariah make it to Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War?
How did she get there?
Did she know about the South Carolina Supreme Court’s ruling?
Was she kicked off the place by Robert Reed Rosborough after freedom came?
What did she do to support herself and her children?
When Charles Thomas went to Texas to visit other Rosborough cousins, did he know about Maria/Mariah and her children?
When John Cubit Rosborough went to his attorneys to establish his will and to create the trust, did he discuss his own children?
My maternal grandmother, who married a descendant of the Rosboroughs and whose sister also married another Rosborough descendant – see – straight out of Faulkner – sisters marrying cousins – used to say “Blood will out.” She also used to say there were rumors that parts of my grandfathers’ people, the ones who were planters, had some skeletons in the family closet. I wonder, now, if this history was known by that generation, and, like Uncle Charles, ignored or glossed over so as to maintain centuries of whiteness, unmarred or unsullied by even one drop of African blood.
I am reminded of the scene in the paint factory in Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man: “Our white is so white you can paint a chunka coal and you’d have to crack it open with a sledge hammer to prove it wasn’t white clear through.”
Our family doesn’t need a sledge hammer.
 The Century House was built in 1853 by Dr. James Buchanan Coleman from the land purchased from the family of Dr. James Thomas Rosborough some time before 1824 upon Dr. Rosborough’s widow’s move to Texas. “Uncle” Charles Thomas visited the “Texas cousins” some time in the 1930’s. [James Thomas Rosborough was one of John Cubit Rosborough and Robert Reed Rosborough’s brothers.] Coleman family records indicated that Dr. Coleman built on the property where John Rosborough’s home was located. John Rosborough’s home was a “two-story…wooden house…with beautiful pink climbing roses on the piazza…large rooms on both floors and silver door knobs and walnut stair rails….built before 1800….” Dr. Coleman’s older children were born in the Rosborough home. There is no indication of what happened to the Rosborough home to require the construction of the Century House. This was the site of General Pierre Gustave Toutant Beauregard’s temporary headquarters after the evacuation of Columbia, South Carolina, in the last days of the War Between the States. Just prior to Sherman’s advance, Beauregard and General Wade Hampton evacuated Ridgeway. See “The Century House” in Bolick, Julian Stevenson, A Fairfield Sketchbook pp. 26-28 (Columbia, 1963).
[The Century House still stands on the site of John Rosborough’s former home. We showed Jerome Roseborough his ancestral home site. Too bad the original house with pink climbing roses on the piazza and silver door knobs and walnut stair rails is no longer extant.]