Note: Mildred Jane Thacker and Frances Thacker lived beside each other with their families in 1850. They, as well as their families, are listed as “mulatto” in this census. They married cousins Weatherfoot Napper and Nimrod Nicholas Thacker. Were Mildred and Frances cousins? Were they sisters? Why are the descendents of one white, and the other black?
Raccoon Creek starts softly in the southeast corner of Hocking County below the Hocking River. It travels down 109 miles flirting with Athens County and the northwestern tip of Meigs County. Full bodied it runs into Vinton County before it reaches the Ohio River just north of Raccoon Island in Gallia County. The creek has always attracted boaters and fishermen.
In 1857, a trio of men were enjoying the day, paddling a canoe on the creek near Hawks Station in Vinton County. Dennis McKinniss, Malachi Dorton and Weatherfoot Napper were all Wilkesville Township boys. According to the 1850 census, Malachi and “Wed” lived next door to each other. Conspicuous by his absence was another neighbor, Nicholas Thacker, the nephew of Malachi and cousin to Wed.
On another day, it could have easily been Nicholas in the canoe, with Wed back on dry land, but on this day, the men rowing the narrow boat were Dennis, Malachi and Wed. The account of the incident, found in “A Standard History of The Hanging Rock Iron Region of Ohio, Volume 1” is painfully sparse, stating only, “The last three men were drowned at Hartley’s Mill in 1857 by the upsetting of a canoe in which they were rowing.”
After the death of her husband, Wed Napper, Mildred Jane moved her family to Pike County where she worked as day laborer. Francis, the wife of Nicholas, stayed with her husband and family in Vinton County. Family tradition says that the Dorton, Napper and Thacker families were part Native American. This originally set them apart from their Ohio neighbors when they first arrived from Virginia.
Eventually, after many decades of living, working and marrying their white neighbors, those that stayed in Vinton County crossed the threshold of race and disappeared forever into the white community. This is what happened to Francis and her descendents.
In Pike County, however, it was the surrounding black community that opened its arms to Mildred Jane and her family. And so Mildred and her descendents passed forever into the African American community.
Two descendents, one black, one white, research the same branch of a family tree. Is it possible they owe not only the color of their skin, but their very existence to a boat that rocked and a canoe trip not taken?
Halvor Moorshead, R.I.P.
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