Phillip Clinkscales: the uncomfortable reality of plantation genealogy
Phillip Clinkscales was born April 27, 1826 and died January 22, 1892. He married Claracy Thompson Bobo (1829-1895) and had eleven known children. He and his wife are buried at Shiloh Baptist Church in Anderson County, South Carolina. Because few records exist for African-Americans born in the South before the Civil War, Phillip’s parents were a dead end to me. My wife descends from Phillip’s oldest son, Steward Clinkscale, who moved to Arkansas in the 1880s and apparently lost all contact with his parents and siblings. Although he dropped the S in his surname, he did name two of his 11 children after his parents. For a long time, his father Phillip was a brick wall until I found my wife’s fourth cousin online. A fourth cousin means they share a great-great-great grandparent. He also told me that the descendants of Phillip and Claracy Clinkscales have a reunion and have worked to document much of their family history. In fact, their reunion is this weekend in Detroit, Michigan. They had no idea that Steward made his way to Arkansas and now had a multitude of offspring who knew nothing of their South Carolina roots.
When I asked the cousin about the parents of Phillip Clinkscales, he told me they suspected Phillip was the mulatto son of a slave-owner and a slave. Oral tradition states that the white Clinkscales looked out for Phillip as family, and census records show he was a literate mulatto who owned substantial property shortly after emancipation. He may have never actually lived as a slave. The cousin put me in touch with a Caucasian Clinkscales from Texas who was doing a DNA project to link the white and black Clinkscales families of Anderson County, South Carolina. I found a local third cousin of my wife’s who qualified for the DNA test (a direct male-only lineage from Phillip), and we met up at a restaurant. As I ate a free steak, the Caucasian Clinkscales swabbed this man’s mouth for a sample. He also told us that several Clinkscales had participated in the study, and the results confirmed they had all come from a common ancestor. He assumes the ancestor is Levi Clinkscales (1782-1845) although it could feasibly be his father, son, or brother. Because of the uncertainty of which white Clinkscales my wife comes from, I have not added them to my family tree yet. Perhaps I hesitate to add this branch because I do not want to admit what we all know was commonplace on the plantation- white slave owners made babies with their black slave women.
Slavery is a harsh part of many family histories, and both the descendants of slaves and slave-owners often deal with some emotional baggage regarding the world their ancestors lived in. There were different degrees of brutality and humanity allowed to slaves in various situations, but even in the best-case scenario, people were still property. Although some people attempt to romanticize the sexual relationships between slave-owners and their black mates, it is hard to imagine the situation as anything nicer than rape. Even if the enslaved woman was attracted to the man, she was still his property and could legally never be anything more to him. While the owners may have had motives such as increasing their workforce and property value, this certainly does not justify sexual assault. In fact, many abolitionists used these sexual relationships as a reason to end slavery. Perhaps they were sympathetic to the slave families or just afraid of miscegenation. Interracial marriages did not become fully legal in many Southern states until a century after the Civil War, and some stigma still exists today. The mulatto children born to slave owners may have enjoyed some preferential treatment compared to fellow slaves, but legally they were considered black. Many state laws defined blacks as anyone with “one drop of blood.” Even if freed, they lived as second-class citizens at best.
A likely part of my wife’s family history is that one of her 4x great-grandmothers was a slave who was taken advantage of by her married, white master, but another part of the story is the strength of that mulatto son who no doubt overcame numerous obstacles. Records indicate that he was literate, owned a substantial farm, married a beautiful woman, and raised eleven known children. Many of his descendants are gathering together right now in Detroit for a weekend of celebration to honor of the legacy of Phillip and Claracy Clinkscales. So, I guess it all worked out in the end.