Slavery in Family Tree

I received an interesting question: in my research if I had found people of different races with the surname Ragland. 

The answer is yes.

The first Ragland in America was a slave owner

In the latter years of the Jamestown settlement, the first Ragland arrived in America circa 1670. That first Ragland was Evan Ragland. Born in 1656 in St. Decuman’s parish, Somerset, England, Evan died in 1717 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia. He married Susanna Pettus about 1680 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia. She was born about 1660 in St. Peter’s Parish, New Kent County, Virginia, and her death details are unknown. Susanna was the daughter of Stephen Pettus

There’s some speculation that the first Ragland came over as an indentured servant or as a result of an English press gang—but there’s no proof. 

However, there is proof that the early Raglands held slaves. Subsequent generations continued to hold slaves through the American Revolution and on through the westward expansion into Kentucky. They continued to hold slaves until the Emancipation during the Civil War.

After the Civil War the Raglands headed westward again. This time to Texas, California, and Missouri. My side of the family moved into Missouri and worked much smaller farms as a family units without the help of slaves.

Evan Ragland 

As I said earlier, the Evan Ragland is the first I’ve found in America. He arrived in Virginia circa 1670. I found a record in the Orange Parish Church records of his date of death. Also noted was a slave of Evan Ragland named Peter. 

The Pettus farm

Evan Ragland married Susanna Pettus. Her father, Stephen Pettus had a large farm (for that time) on Mechamps Creek near the mouth of the Chickahominy River in New Kent County, Virginia. The farm was located 27 miles from Williamsburg and 33 miles from Jamestown. 

We know that Pettus purchased workers for his plantation. And through the registry in the St. Peter’s Parish, we can conclude that the farm had slaves by the time of Evan’s death.

Not much more is known about Evan Ragland. He inherited from Stephen Pettus. I did find a note on from a researcher in the 1930’s who discovered a history of some of the early families founding Bedford County, Virginia (author is unknown.)

“The first Ragland who came to America in about 1720, and settled on Mechamps Creek, near the mouth of the Chickahominy River. He obtained land grants for some fifteen thousand acres of land in the counties of Hanover and Louisa, and imported slaves directly from Africa. His country seat was known as “Ripping Hall,” and remained in the Ragland family till 1823, when it was destroyed by fire.”

Evan Ragland’s death 

The final official notation relating to Evan is found in the St. Peter’s Parish registry.

“Evan Raglin departed this life may ye 30th 1717.” 

Also Peter, a negro of Evan Ragland, died 22 Mar 1717.” 

“[Son] Thomas Ragland died 15 Feb 1719.”
(Source: St. Peter’s Parish Vestry Book and Register, 1684-1786)

Putting Evan Ragland’s life in context

I can only speculate, but listing a slave’s death in the parish registry would signify Peter’s significance to Evan Ragland. Furthermore, they both died within weeks of each other, indicating perhaps the cause of death was a contagious illness.

Setting Evan Ragland’s life into the history of Virginia, we know that he arrived at the time the Jamestown Settlement flourished. Still, during his lifetime, the capital of the Colony would become Williamsburg. Evan died before the Revolutionary War, but his descendants would fight as Patriots.

Tracing slaves through genealogy

If you’re interested in tracing whether your ancestor held slaves, look at the actual census record—not the summary.

Black DNA and the Ragland Surname

Most Raglands have African American DNA. The reason is most likely the prevalent behavior of white slaveholders having sexual relationships with their black slaves. In the twenty-first century, we find this behavior deviant and abhorrent. But w’re talking about a different time in social history.

According to the social mores of these times in history, was the progeny of a slaveholder was recorded as a slave ignored by his slave owner father. And it’s a bitter pill to swallow that slaves were recorded as property in census reporting. If it’s hard to find a first name, it’s doubtful these slaves had last names.

I imagine the adoption of Ragland as a surname among slaves occurred with emancipation. Often former slaves would adopt their former owner’s names as their surname. I’m curious as to why. If any reader can shed some light on this practice, I hope you’ll share your knowledge.