This remarkable document, an affidavit concerning the free status of Josephine Pritchard of Charleston, South Carolina, documents six generations of a single free black family, through the maternal line. Surnames are Pritchard, Johnson, Payne, Owens, and Perroneau (Perreneau, Peronneau).
In South Carolina, the free or enslaved status of a child was determined by the free or enslaved status of the child’s mother. If a child was born to an enslaved woman, the child was enslaved in the eyes of the law. A child born to a free woman of color was considered free. This affidavit was given by R.S.H. Hanahan in order to document Josephine Pritchard’s line of descent from free black or mulatto women, and hence, to confirm that she was a free woman.
The result is this rare recitation of the names of six generations of a single family, leading back to an ancestor who was freed from bondage in 1740 by Charles Peronneau of Charleston. We hope this document finds its way home to the many descendants of this family.
Significance of This Document
This document is remarkable not only because it lists six generations of a single African American family, but also because it documents an unbroken maternal line. Maternal lines can be difficult to trace unless you know each female ancestor’s maiden name. We see five surnames within this single maternal line. This document will be a rare gem for anyone researching this family.
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Personally appeared before me E.M. Whiting a Magistrate of said State, R.S.H. Hanahan and A.H. Wilson, who upon being duly sworn says that they are personally acquainted with Josephine Pritchard a free born black woman, aged 34 years who is the daughter of Rebecca Johnson a free Born Black woman, who is the daughter of Isabella Payne a free born black woman who was the daughter of Sally Owens, a free Born Black woman, who was the daughter of Nancy Perronneau, who was the daughter of Dolly Perronneau, the said Nancy Perreneau and Dolly Perreneau were emancipated by the will of Charles Perreneau, bearing date the 17th day of October 1740, as will more fully appear by reference to the Records of the Secretary of State Office Book four C page 589.
Sworn to before me
This 30th day of May 1864
The State of South Carolina
This is to certify that I am personally acquainted with the above R.S. H. Hanahan and A.H. Wilson, and that they are gentlemen of high respectability of character. – 30th May 1864
Recorded 2d June 1864
Suggestions for Further Research
There are several leads within this document for next steps for further documenting this family:
- The document refers to another primary document: “the said Nancy Perreneau and Dolly Perreneau were emancipated by the will of Charles Perreneau, bearing date the 17th day of October 1740, as will more fully appear by reference to the Records of the Secretary of State Office Book four C page 589.” Finding this document may reveal more detail about Nancy and Dolly’s emancipation.
- A search for probate records for Charles Peronneau (also rendered Perronneau and Perreneau in the document) may lead to more information about other family members of Nancy and Dolly.
- The next steps listed below for researching free people of color in Charleston may produce more documents for this family.
If you find documentation for a free African American ancestor in Charleston, there are several record sets you can consult to pick up a further document trail. Here are some starting points:
- If your ancestor was free, you should be able to find them in census records for census years after their emancipation.
- The South Carolina Department of Archives and History has microfilmed records of the State Free Negro Capitation Tax, a tax free people of color were required to pay annually. The twenty-nine books in this publication list names of many free blacks who lived in Charleston between 1811 and 1860.
- You may be able to locate your free ancestor in city directories. Ancestry.com has digitized Charleston’s city directories in the collection “U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995.” You can view print copies of Charleston city directories in the South Carolina Room at Charleston County Public Library.
- Your free ancestor(s) may have owned property. You can check the Register of Deeds in your county of research interest to see if there are records for your ancestor.
- You can browse the free FamilySearch collections “South Carolina Probate Records, Bound Volumes, 1671-1977” and “South Carolina Probate Records, Files and Loose Papers, 1732-1964” for probate records such as wills, estate inventories and estate accounts for free black ancestors. These will be interfiled with probate records of free white citizens. Note that these collections are not indexed, so you will need to browse the index pages of individual volumes to see if your ancestor’s name is listed. If you find your ancestor’s name, note the page number and browse to that page number on the microfilm.
 Affidavit of R.S.H. Hanahan Concerning the Freedom of Josephine Pritchard. Miscellaneous records, 1771-1868, v. 6K 1860-1868, https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:3Q9M-CSLV-LLLX?i=164&cat=476811, frame 165 of 351, accessed 12 Sep 2017.