*Information compiled for Historic Furnishings Report for south slave cabin at Melrose - Natchez National Historical Park.

Extensive research has proved that any furnishing plan for the south slave cabin at Melrose will be largely conjectural. To provide some authenticity to the interpretation of the cabin, the furnishings plan should interpret, to the extent possible, the lives of a specific, well-documented enslaved family that resided at Melrose.

Emily Jenkins Miller offers the most complete biography for interpretation in a furnishings plan. She, her husband, and their seven children are fully identified by name and age in census records. Her 1899 obituary also identifies her maiden name as Jenkins. She is the only enslaved servant at Melrose known to have an obituary and whose image and postbellum house are recorded by photography. Emily married Washington Miller, often referred to as Wash Miller, an enslaved man owned by Col. Lewis Sanders, Jr. Sanders was a former secretary of state, state legislator, and a federal attorney of Kentucky who later practiced law in Natchez. Since Wash Miller was born in Kentucky, he may have belonged to Sanders before he relocated to Natchez.

No legal record of a marriage between Washington Miller and Emily Jenkins exists, and it is not known whether or not a marriage ceremony took place. Clergymen sometimes conducted marriage ceremonies for enslaved African American house servants, but these marriages were rarely recorded in the courthouse. Regardless, Washington Miller acknowledged Emily as his wife in his 1898 will, in which he bequeathed “my beloved wife, Emily Miller, all of my property real personal and mixed.” He also appointed “his beloved wife Emily Miller as executor.”

Enslaved people from different antebellum households frequently intermarried, particularly if they lived in town or in the suburbs. Emily Jenkins would have had limited options for marriage among the small number of enslaved servants in the Melrose household. Washington Miller would typically have lived at least part-time at Melrose while remaining at the beck and call of his owner, Col. Lewis Sanders, Jr.

Emily Jenkins would have met Washington Miller through the relationship that existed between Lewis and Margaret Sanders and the McMurrans. When the McMurrans moved to Melrose, they leased their home, Holly Hedges, to the Sanders family and later sold it to Margaret Sanders in January 1853. The deed described the house as “now occupied as a residence by Margaret Sanders.

The family of Emily and Washington Miller appears in both the 1870 and 1880 U. S. censuses, which provide biographical information about their places of birth and the places of birth of their parents and children. The preponderance of evidence indicates that both Washington and Emily were born in Kentucky, although the 1880 census lists Emily’s birthplace as Virginia, the birthplace of her parents. This is likely an error, since every other source, including the 1870 census and the census listings of her adult children, identify her place of birth as Kentucky. Washington Miller’s parents were born in Kentucky. All seven children of the Miller family were born in Mississippi.

Both Emily and Washington Miller share the rare African American distinction of having obituaries published in the newspaper, and these obituaries identify their antebellum owners. Photographer Henry Gurney recorded the postbellum home of the Millers in a ca. 1866 photograph, and a member of the Stewart family, who owned the photograph in an album of Gurney photographs, identified the photograph in the late 19th century as the home of “Wash Miller”. Photographer Henry Norman created a portrait of the Miller family about 1880.

Although research indicates that enslavement at Melrose was relatively benign and the housing and living conditions of enslaved people on antebellum suburban estates like Melrose were generally much better than living conditions on an isolated cotton plantation, the story of the family created by Emily and Washington Miller may nonetheless illustrate the cruelty of the separation of slave families. The 1870 U. S. census lists their oldest four children, in order of birth, as Celia (23), Henry (22), Laura (20), and Rachel (17). After a gap of thirteen or fourteen years, the Millers had James (3) and William (1). The 1880 U. S. census identifies still another child, Lloyd the youngest, who was born in 1872.

This bewildering thirteen or fourteen-year gap in childbearing resulted from the forced or willing separation of the couple. Washington Miller’s owner, Col. Lewis Sanders, Jr. moved from Natchez to Sacramento, California, and took Washington Miller with him. Miller may have gone to California willingly in hopes of earning money to buy his freedom and support his family, which is a premise recounted in repeated Miller family histories.

California probably attracted the attention of Natchez attorney, Col. Lewis Sanders, Jr., because, in 1848, one of his daughters married his Natchez law partner and fellow Kentuckian, James Ben Ali Haggin, who moved to Sacramento about 1850. Haggin entered into the practice of law with fellow Kentuckian Lloyd Tevis, who in 1854 married Susan, another daughter of Sanders. Haggin and Tevis invested in the mining business with George Hearst, and Hearst, Haggin, Tevis and Company became one of the largest and most successful mining companies in the country. The two sons-in-law of Lewis Sanders soon numbered among the wealthiest men in California. Haggin eventually relocated to New York and Newport and also became famous for horse breeding in Kentucky. Lloyd Tevis, who remained in California, also achieved great business success and was president of Wells Fargo from 1872 until 1892.

Sanders first appears in California in an 1852 Sacramento City Directory. According to Miller family history, Washington left Natchez for California when his youngest daughter Rachel was a baby. She is listed as 17 in the 1870 census and would have been born in 1852 or 1853, depending on whether or not she had celebrated her birthday when the census was taken in 1870. If Sanders departed Natchez in 1852, the year he appeared in the Sacramento City Directory, the 1852 date is consistent with the Miller family story. The residency of Sanders in Sacramento also explains why the 1853 deed from the McMurrans to Margaret Sanders, described Holly Hedges as “now occupied as a residence by Margaret Sanders,” with no mention of her husband.

“Wash Miller” appears in the 1860 U. S. census as one of six servants in the Sacramento household of Lewis Sanders. Two are Irish, two are Indians, and two are black. The other black servant is George Bell, who was born in Mississippi, and likely traveled with Sanders and Miller as an enslaved servant from Natchez to Sacramento. Whether these two black enslaved servants knew that they were enumerated as “free” inhabitants in the 1860 census is unknown. Sanders would not have been the only relocated Southerner to hold slaves in California since a large number of white Southerners brought slaves into the free state. Sanders also had a reputation for supporting African enslavement. The memoirs of Californian Cornelius Cole describe Sanders as “remarkable for his openmouthed antipathy towards Abolitionists…”

Washington Miller would have known both James Ben Ali Haggin and Lloyd Tevis, the wealthy sons-in-law of Sanders. After his return to Natchez, he honored both men by naming sons after them. He may also have thought that the names of two of the most successful businessmen in California would bode well for the future success of his sons. If so, he was correct. Both James Hagan (Washington Miller’s spelling of the name Haggin) Miller and Lloyd Tevis Miller became noted medical doctors. Naming his sons after the wealthy sons-in-law of his former owner also gives rise to speculation that the two men may have played a role in Miller’s return to Natchez and in his ability to open a business and buy a house for his family.

Lewis Sanders died in 1864 and Washington Miller returned to Natchez not long afterwards. According to two family accounts, Rachel, the youngest of the four children was thirteen years old and playing in the yard when her father returned home. She ran inside the house and told her mother, “There’s a black man out there, and he says he’s my father.”If she were born in 1852, Washington probably returned in 1865, after he and Emily had been apart approximately thirteen years.

If Emily and Wash Miller were reunited in 1865, their reunion probably occurred at Melrose. The McMurrans sold the estate to Elizabeth Davis, wife of George Malin Davis, on December 8, 1865. However, Alice Austen McMurran noted in her diary/memoir that “Ma McMurran writes [that] Melrose will be given up the lst of January, 1866.” John and Mary Louisa McMurran then moved to nearby Woodlands, which was the residence of Mary Louisa’s widowed mother, Elizabeth Turner. It is likely that some of the enslaved servants at Melrose moved with them. These formerly enslaved servants included William and Eliza Jones. Numerous references to Bill and Eliza Jones appear in post-Civil War McMurran correspondence, and the 1880 census documents that widowed Eliza Jones was still a member of Mary McMurran’s household.

Emily and Washington Miller may have continued to reside at Melrose for a while before the McMurrans sold Melrose. They also may have moved with the McMurrans to Woodlands after Melrose was sold. It is even possible that the Davis family might have allowed them to remain at Melrose as caretakers. However, by the time of the 1870s census, the Millers appear to be living on their own, although they own no real estate. Their personal property is valued at $600.00.

On June 1, 1875, Dr. F. A. W. Davis sold Washington Miller property on the Natchez Bluff, designated as lot 25 of the Levin Wailes survey of the bluff. The Millers later sold this property, which was near the existing railroad depot at 200 N. Broadway St., to the Illinois Central Railroad. They next purchased property from Henry Frank on the Natchez Bluff near the intersection of N. Broadway and Madison Streets. Henry Gurney photographed this house in 1866, before it was owned by the Miller family. This photograph is one of a large collection of Civil War era photographs taken by Henry Gurney in an album once owned by the William E. Stewart family. The photograph album includes a hand-written inventory of the photographs that appears to date to the late 19th century and was likely created by Livingston or William Percy Stewart. The photograph of the house is identified as simply “Wash Miller.”

About 1880, photographer Henry Norman, who succeeded Henry Gurney in the operation of his studio, photographed Washington and Emily Miller for a family portrait. The family appears to have posed in the yard of their home. The members of the family that were photographed coordinate with household members listed in the 1880 U. S. census.

Not only does the Miller family offer the opportunity to illustrate the practice of enslaved husbands and wives belonging to different owners and the possibility that they were forcibly separated by Washington Miller’s owner, the post-Civil War history of the family tells a remarkable and uplifting story of reunion and economic success in post-Civil War Natchez. When Miller returned to Natchez from California, he opened a successful carriage and dray business. For many years, he served on the Board of Trustees of the Union School, a public school for African Americans dating to 1871. The obituaries of Washington and Emily Miller extoll their virtues. The seven children of Washington and Emily also led productive and even distinguished lives. As previously noted, two of their sons, James Hagan Miller and Lloyd Tevis Miller became pioneering and much esteemed black physicians in the Mississippi Delta.

Although the Miller family has the fullest identity of the enslaved families at Melrose, extensive research has not disclosed which building the family occupied at Melrose. Miller family oral tradition maintains that Emily Jenkins Miller was the cook at Melrose and lived in the quarters in the second-story of the kitchen building.McMurran family correspondence indicates that Rachel was the cook and was sometimes assisted by Mammy Helen. The apparent disparity between the family oral tradition and the McMurran correspondence sparks speculation that Emily Jenkins Miller, who named a daughter Rachel, may possibly have been the daughter of Rachel the cook and may herself have grown up above the kitchen.

An argument can be made that the family of Washington and Emily Miller were likely to have lived in one of the two detached quarters set off from the house, even if Emily had once lived above the kitchen. The McMurrans and the enslaved servants themselves were unlikely to have wanted a young family with four small children, and likely more on the way, living within the center of operations at Melrose, which consisted of the main house with its rear courtyard flanked by a two-story brick kitchen and a two-story brick dairy, each with upper-story slave quarters, as well as a smoke house, privy, and two latticed cistern houses.

The number of rooms occupied by Emily Miller’s family is unknown. It is possible that they occupied a single room of one of the two cabins, and it is possible that they shared one of the two frame quarters with other family members.

Emily’s role in the Melrose household is not indicated in any of the McMurran family correspondence. Letters indicate that Rachel was the cook and most likely lived above the kitchen. The role of nurse to John McMurran, Jr. and Mary Elizabeth McMurran belongs to “Mammy Helen” who is identified by name with that role. Family correspondence notes that Helen caught the whooping cough when John and Mary Elizabeth had it as children, and an 1869 letter refers to her as “old Mother Hellon.” Initially, Helen likely lived in close proximity to the main house in the quarters above the kitchen or dairy. As the McMurran’s two children and Helen grew older, she possibly fulfilled the role of childcare provider to the enslaved children at Melrose. Family correspondence also documents Helen as a sometime cook.

By the simple process of elimination, Emily was most likely a housemaid, a seamstress, or a laundress—or some combination of the three. In the 1870 census, her daughter Celia was listed as a seamstress and her daughter Laura as a laundress. The girls could have learned both skills from their mother although those skills were common occupations for African American women in post-Civil War Natchez. The 1870 and 1880 censuses describe Emily’s occupation as “Keeping House,” which seems, based on other census entries, to indicate that she did not work outside her home. “Keeping House” would seem to imply that someone worked as a housekeeper but a study of the census records indicates otherwise. She may not have worked outside her home due to her husband’s business success or she might not have worked due to her health. Rheumatism is listed as a disability in the 1880 census.

Emily’s obituary identifies her maiden name as Jenkins, but attempts to document a family relationship of Emily to other household servants at Melrose have so far been unsuccessful. Searches using the first names of enslaved servants at Melrose with the last name Jenkins in census records and courthouse records disclosed no likely kinships. The plantation diary of John Carmichael Jenkins and an inventory made at his death in 1855 were also not helpful. Also unsuccessful were efforts to link Emily to any enslaved or postbellum servants at neighboring Monmouth and Woodlands, both of which were linked to the McMurran family by kinship. However, it is possible that the names of two of Emily’s daughters, Laura and Rachel, represent kinship links to enslaved Laura, who died in 1844 and is buried at Melrose, and Rachel the cook.

According to Emily’s obituary, she and Washington Miller “raised a large family of girls and boys who are good and valued citizens. All the girls have married well and are respected and admired in their new homes; the boys have attained manhood’s estate and they are accounted as among the representative men of their race. Each child grew up to be a credit to their parents and to the community in which they were born and reared.” Two of her sons, Lloyd Tevis Miller and James H. Miller, became medical doctors and leading citizens in Yazoo City and Greenville, Mississippi, respectively. One son Henry and all three of the daughters were part of the northern migration to St. Louis. Only one son, William, remained in Natchez, where he worked as a mail clerk. However, he too eventually relocated from Natchez before his early death.

The obituaries of Washington and Emily Miller do not mention each other, and they are buried separately. Washington died in 1898 and is buried in Pine Grove Cemetery; Emily died in 1899 while visiting in Yazoo City and is buried in the Sullivan Addition of the Natchez City Cemetery. Both funerals were held at Zion Chapel A.M. E. church. The separate burials apparently do not denote anything of significance in their relationship, since Washington Miller made his will not long before his death, referenced his beloved wife, and designated her executor of his estate.

This photograph dates c 1865-1866 and is identified in its photographic album as the house of "Wash Miller." The identification of the images appears to date to c 1890 and was done by Livingston or Percy Stewart.

Based on the 1880 census, these individuals are likely, left to right:

Rachael Miller Stanton, age 27, school teacher, holds a book - George Stanton, age 8 - Washington Miller, age 54 working as hackman - James Miller, age 13 - Emily Jenkins Miller, age 50 and keeping house - Aduska E. Stanton, age 4.

Natchez Democrat ad, May 15, 1884, page 7.

Washington Miller's obituary - Natchez Democrat, July 8, 1898 page 2.

Emily Jenkins Miller's obituary - Natchez Democrat, July 1, 1899 page 2.


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