Arnett-Brooks, Henderson, KY
Submitted by Joyce McCollum
Oral tradition in my mothers family is a wealth of names, events and sometimes fantastic stories of ghosts, omens, faith and the deeds of long dead relatives. My mother is the seventh of eleven children. The eldest was born in 1910 and the youngest in 1937! My maternal grandfather was the youngest of his mother Amanda Arnett Brooks’ seven living children. He was born in 1890 and his eldest sister in 1862 before Emancipation.
There were many stories about Great-grandmother Amanda, That she had been a slave and that the slave owner had been her father, that she had white half-sisters who visited her and finally that she received a government pension that made her affluent for her time and community.
Very little was ever mentioned about her husband, Richard. My grandfather was named for him although there were several older brothers.
In 1985, the family had gathered for a funeral. All of mothers surviving siblings were in town. I had recently been given a photograph of Great-grandmother and remarked to my Aunts Ernestine and Hallie that they resembled her a great deal. I asked if they remembered their grandparents.
Hallie was born in 1910 and Ernestine in 1912. Both remembered their grandmother very well. Aunt Ernestine said that Amanda had been sewing clothes for Ernestine’s upcoming wedding in 1933 and was 98 years old when she died that year.
Neither had any memories of their grandfathers but recalled when their mothers father died in Dayton, Ohio in 1919. It was their first train ride and first time away from Kentucky.
When questioned as to why he was in Ohio, they replied that he was in the Old Soldier’sHome! My brain was racing, Spanish-American War, World War I? The answer floored me! They said that both of their grandfathers had fought in the Blue and Gray War!
The next day I became a genealogist. I called Dayton and found the Old Soldier’s Home to be the Veterans Administration Hospital. After a long talk with the archivist, I knew that Great-grandfather John Howard had been admitted to the home in 1897 and had died there in January of 1919. He was a veteran of the United States Colored Troops 49th Regiment Company B. From this information, I applied to NARA and obtained the service and pension files for he and later, Great-grandfather, Richard Brooks. These documents provided much genealogical information for both ancestors.
The file for Richard Brooks included his military enlistment including his year and place of birth, his service record, petitions for his pension, death and burial information and most importantly the "Declaration Of Marriage" affidavit that He and Amanda made at the Henderson County, Kentucky Court House in 1881 stating that they had cohabited as man and wife since 1858 having been joined under "Old Slave Law" and wished to continue to do so. (I had been told by the county clerk that no marriage record was on file for them.)
From the NARA file I also obtained the final medical and funeral expenses for Amanda as she did receive a widows pension after Richard's death in 1905. From her death date, I contacted the local newspaper and obtained a copy of her obituary. And from it I learned that, "An Honored Colored Woman Dies".
The obituary told of her being born enslaved on the farm of Elijah Arnett of Cairo, Kentucky and remaining there until freed by the Civil War. There was mention of her being a midwife and having 105 living descendants.
She died in March of 1933. Family tradition also stated that Uncles Fox and George were the offspring of a white Yankee soldier. Richard Brooks was stationed at Camp Nelson Kentucky from 1864-1866. The twins George and Fox were born in 1866. He raised them as his own, stating that he knew "Mandy had no say in the matter".
It was also family tradition that he could read and write and that Amanda often said "Pappy never lied in his life!" His application for pension affidavits that give character references state that "Richard Brooks was a moral man not given to vicious habits".
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