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A POST-RECONSTRUCTION TALE


Special by THE NEW TIMES HOLLER!
From the Wild South Show
Amir Bey, 2013
May 30
During the basketball playoffs I wondered if the Memphis Grizzlies' Mike Conley was any relation to Nantambu Mwanga, because Conley is one of his family's surnames. I didn't get any further than Mike Conley's paternal grandparents, which was tantilizingly close since they were in Chicago as was Nantambu's family.

However, the 1940 census revealed that Nantambu's grandmother Amy Conley lived with his parents at that time, which he didn't know. This stimulated my curiosity to see more, and I looked into other branches of his family. Due to the lack of documentation for slaves before the Civil War, on his father's side I could only go as far as his great-great grandfather Green Conley, born 1816 in Huntsville, Alabama. And on his mother's paternal side the Coulter line only went as far as 1877, but on her maternal line, we travel from her mother Mamie B. Pruitt born in 1887 in Florence, Alabama, to Somerset and Bedfordshire in England during the Middle Ages, and perhaps even further.

PART 1: RECONSTRUCTING THE POST-RECONSTRUCTION TALE

Thomas Prewitt Sr. arrived to the New World in 1636 at the age of 20. Born in 1616 in Salisbury, Wiltshire, England, he came to Charles City Virginia. As an indentured servant, Thomas was given 50 acres by a widowed landowner to labor for 5 years to pay off his transportation debt. Afterwards, the 50 acres were his.

But hold on a minute! Let's travel up the family river and move back in time. By leaping from generation to generation to the past we will merge the African-American Conleys and Mwangas with the Wiltshire Prewitts. If you try searches from the past you often run into many dead ends and flounder in eddies not knowing which stream leads to the individual who is your focal point, unable to make the desired connection.
           Better to work from the certain present and work backwards. From Nantambu's mother Hazel Coulter to Mamie Pruitt, to her parents George Washington Pruitt, born ca 1865 and mother Fannie Bromley. The 1880 census lists him as a "M," mulatto, although mulatto could describe any combination of African and European. George's father was Marshall Pulaski Pruitt, born December 12, 1843 in Florence. His middle name Pulaski intrigued me because while many blacks have Lincoln and Washington as middle and surnames, very few if any had names honoring the revolutionary war hero Casimir Pulaski, the "Father of American Cavalry." The 1850 census and following censuses list Marshall as being "W," white; in those days, the census listed you as B, W, or M, Black, White, or Mulatto.


GEORGE WASHINGTON PRUITT
186? - 1949




Was with his father Marshall at the end.
Gathering details gradually tell stories. According to the 1860 Census, Marshall's father Henry Palmer Pruitt had only 3 slaves, although some literature uses the word plantation to describe their estate in Florence. However, there was the nearby family estate Pruitton, and while the Pruitts were not the wealthiest family in Florence, their large family had many branches and generations for two hundred years in the south, and Marshall's family sympathized with the plantation way of life. By no means was support for secession a given: Northern Alabama had Union sympathizers, poorer whites who resented plantation owners, and a military unit was even formed to join the North?s cause.

In 1861, his father Henry and older brothers John Calvin, James Oliver, and William Riley joined the 25th Tennessee Infantry on the side of the Confederacy. "There was probably no family to be found who were more loyal to the South than the Red-Headed Pruitts," said cousin Wade Pruitt. Marshall and his brother Robert E. joined the Alabama 35th Infantry; Marshall entered and left the Alabama 35th as a private. The 35th saw some bloody battles: Baton Rouge, Port Hudson, Baker's Creek, Vicksburg, before it saw more brutal action when they were part of the South's hopeless effort to stop Sherman's advance, making huge sacrifices at the gates of Atlanta. And then they were ordered to try to retake the Carolinas. Two of his brothers died, John Calvin and Robert E, one from wounds suffered at Chickamauga, the other in a Union prison camp. When the war was over, the 35th had suffered high casualties in soldiers and officers, and Marshall was one of the few that returned home.

There are some discrepancies between dates and names: all records show that Marshall was born in 1843, yet some records show that George W. Pruitt, one of his oldest sons, was born in 1854; no documents and family histories refute that George was Marshall's son. Fortunately there are several records giving him a birth year of 1864 or after. It's likely that Marshall's children were born after 1865 because his father was away during the war, unless he fathered them at 18 or younger. There are some sources showing Mary Scott having a few children after Marshall's death (!?), which may refer to children she had afterwards, who took his last name from her. However all sources agree that he had a good number of children by the two black women, and the features in the photos of four of them are consistent with that.
           Marshall P. Pruitt died in 1884 at the age of 41, more than a year after he got married to Ms. Scott.

The Killing of Marshall Pulaski Pruitt, from Bugger Saga: The Civil War Story of Guerilla and Bushwhacker Warfare in Lauderdale County, Alabama, by Wade Pruitt, 1910-1976, published in 1977 by P-Vine Press, Columbia, TN, 192 pages; On pg. 142 Pruitt, a 2nd Cousin twice removed of Marshall's, tells the story of how Marshall caught his nephew Jim Wooten kissing his wife "Molly:"

?Marshall was an old bachelor, who late in life married Molly Scott. She became enamored of her nephew by marriage, Jimmy Wooten [the son of Marshall's sister Malissa b.1831].

"Marshall returned home one day unexpectedly and caught Wooten kissing Molly. Wooten, unarmed, begged Marshall to give him a chance, promising to leave the country for Texas within a week. When two weeks had gone by, Marshall learned that Jim Wooten had been seeing Molly again, and went looking for him.

"He found Jim at his brother John?s home. Marshall gave him warning; both men fired. Jim Wooten was killed.

"John Wooten about the same time fired at Marshall from the hall of the house. Marshall fell from his horse, firing as he toppled over, his shot barely missed John Wooten, and lodged in the top of the house.

"John Thomas Pruitt and ?Uncle? George Wash Pruitt were sitting horseback on each side of Marshall while the shooting was taking place.
[John Thomas was John Thomas Pruitt, Marshall's nephew, son of his brother James Oliver Pruitt, and Uncle George was Marshall's son and Nantambu's Great-grandfather]

References John Rhodes; George Wash Pruitt"


This occurred on December 10, two days before Marshall's 41st birthday.

In another version Marshall shot Jim in the chest with a shotgun, while Marshall was shot in the face with buckshot by Jim's brother John. When Marshall fell off of his horse, his gun fired when it hit the ground, nearly missing or just grazing John.

Marshall's wife is only called Molly in this story. Elsewhere, in censuses and marriage records she is called Mary Scott, Sometimes Mary J. Scott, and Mary Isabell Scott. The book wasn't edited before the writer's passing, and Marshall had a daughter named Molly (see photo below) so it's possible the name - or whether it was Marshall's daughter or his wife - was confused and wasn't corrected.

Wade Pruitt, whose real name was Dr. Maurice Collins Pruitt (Wade was his mother's maiden name), grew up hearing many stories from George Washington Pruitt who died in 1949. George and other story tellers are the sources for Bugger Saga. Wade was about to publish his narration of these stories when he passed in 1976.

After looking through Bugger Saga, some of Wade's comments about "Uncle George" rasied questions. He refers to him as an "Uncle Remus" along with two other black men, and that when he was young George's wife Fanny was his nursemaid. George's photo shows a "mulatto," with light-colored eyes and and the hair texture of someone of mixed racial background. Could it be that Wade Pruitt may not have known his familial relationship with George, or that it didn't matter or change their racial relationship?
MOLLY AND JAMES PRUITT

           


Marshall's daughter Molly Pruitt, 1865+-1946.
                     


Marshall's son James Walter Pruitt; named after his brother James Oliver Pruitt?


FANNIE PRUITT
Marshall's daughter



1871-1951 or 1963
This portrait as if drawn in charcoal, is engaging, modern, casual, and in a subtle way she smiles at us through time and place.

This tragedy has several features that are remarkable concerning race relations during the Post-Reconstruction period in the south. Marshall was a former Confederate soldier from a family who were staunch supporters of the South. Between 1865 after the war and his 30th birthday 1873-4, a ten year period, fathered 11, some sources indicate 9 children, all of them bearing his name, by 2 black women, one that he married. Miscegenation, as it was then called had been repealed during Reconstruction, but was reinstated by 1887, four years after Marshall and Mary/Molly's wedding. It was a brief window of time that allowed a Confederate soldier to form and raise a bi-racial family and marry contrary to past and future restrictions against any social interactions with blacks, and also contrary to his siblings and cousins who had spouses and children by whites. Laws against intermarriage between all of the races were instituted in many states during the Post-Reconstruction period. When he went after his nephew Jim Wooten he was accompanied by one of his eldest sons George, who was black, and his nephew John Thomas Pruitt, who was white. Marshall clearly regarded his black children as family, and not the expendable result of the rape of slave women.

If anyone knows of photographs or portraits of Marshall Pulaski Pruitt, or his brothers and sisters, please contact me!

PART 2: PRUITT, PREWITT, PROUET, PROUTE, ETC.

PRUITT COAT OF ARMS




One of a few versions of the Pruitt coat of arms. The motto "Deus Pascit Corvos," God feeds the Ravens, refers to if God feeds the ravens, imagine what he does for humanity.

Here is a list of ancestors that have certain or plausible connections, beginning with Hazel Coulter Conley. When one date is given, that's the ancestor's birth date, followed by the place of birth, and then the spouse's name when known:

Hazel Coulter Conley April 4, 1918 Florence, Alabama; Leroy Conley Feb 11, 1914
Mamie B. Pruitt 1887 Florence; George E. Coulter 1877 Florence
George Washington Pruitt January 186? (There are quite a few years given for his birth!), Florence; Fannie Bromley
Marshall Pulaski Pruitt December 12, 1843-1884 Florence; Spouses Mary Frances 1845, Mary "Molly" Scott 1845
Henry Palmer Pruitt 7/5/1801 Tennessee -1872 in 1830 he moved to Florence; Malinda Jane Bayles 1809-
Alexander Pruitt 1755-1821, Virginia; Frances Palmer 1763-1818
Thomas R. Pruitt Jr. 1720-1806 Virginia; Sarah Doe 1731-1771
Thomas R. Prewitt 1692-1759 (note change in spelling of surname) Virginia; Mary Chastain Ducray 1696-1728
Henry James Prewitt 1654-1722 Virginia; Rebecca Dobbs 1671-1748
Thomas Prewitt 1616-1658 b. Salisbury, Wilthshire, in 1636 at age 20 he entered the New World at Charles City, VA, and Sarah Lessane 1629-1657. He died in Charles City at age 42.

NOTE: With the next few dates there are differences but not serious discrepancies for the years given by the lists.

John Prewitt 1/15/1587 Salisbury; Margaret Pickernell 1590-1616
Gilbert William Prewitt 1567- Bedforshire; Johanne Small 1569-1587
John Pruet 1529 or 35-1575 or 80 Somerset; Tamsyn 1534-1573
Richard Pruet 1501-1580 Somerset; Margery 1501-1577

From this point on the names and dates are from the "Glassy Mountain Clan" family tree's listing. Previously the family trees listed the same names and dates. Here the other trees didn't go this far. Only the father is listed when the mother is not known.

William Pruet 1475-1558 Norwick, Norfolk
John Pruet 1440-1501 East Lexham, Norfolk
Henry Pruet 1403-1466 Wilton, Wiltshire
Sir Richard Pruet 1382 Wilton, Wiltshire; Alice 1383
Sir Thomas Pruet 1361, Wilton, Wiltshire
Sir Gilbert Proute - Pruet 1340 Old Sarum, Wiltshire
Sir Nicholas Pruet, Old Sarum
Sir John Proute 1295-1370 Wilton; Christiana 1302
Sir Elias Pruet 1269 Old Sarum
Sir Herbert Prute 1244 Old Sarum; Lady Juliana 1246-1305
           I'm not sure about "Lady Juliana." There was also the infamous Austrailian prison ship of the
           same name, and I couldn't find anything beyond that. More info anyone?
Adam Prute 1216-1275 Somerset; Agnes Coupe 1221
William Prute 1180-1250 Somerset, or Winchester, Hampshire

There are ancient connections made to the Pruitt line that would push it back to Wales and Ireland, but they are not reliable. Some are based on phonetic similarities that match the Pruitt line to historical figures that may be mythological or to times cloaked in legend. For example, a supposed Pruitt forebear is listed simply as "Prytherch," and "Prydderch," old Welsh names that in meaning do not match Pruitt, or Prute, for Proud, which may have Norman French origins. Those connections should be examined further. Pruitt, while not common like Smith or Jones is very old with many variations and has strong family branches with at least 6 major lines in the United States. The coat of arms above seems to be derived from the Prytherch or Prydderch coat of arms; is the "Pruitt Coat of Arms" a later adaptation?

The yellow pins indicate distribution of the birthplaces in the UK for those Pruitts (Proutes, Pruets, Prutes, Prewitts) from the list above.



This includes Salisbury, Bedfordshire, Somerset, Norwick, East Lexham, Wilton, Old Sarum, and Winchester.

We may think that knowledge of and connecting with our ancestors is difficult if not possible, yet there is so much information available not only from documents but historical commentary, literature, and also what our folks may have said or what we remember them saying!

SOURCES

Alabama Vital Statistics, obituaries, Marriage records

Confederate military records

"Public Family Trees" in Ancestor.Com; people have created pages and forums for their family trees. It's necessary to double check these sources to know who's reliable. And there were a LOT of Family Trees for Pruitt, Pruett, Prewitt, etc.!

Bugger Saga: The Civil War Story of Guerilla and Bushwhacker Warfare in Lauderdale County, Alabama, by Wade Pruitt 1910-1976. P-Vine Press, 1977

The facilities and staff at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Harlem, NY

US Census, 1850, 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1920, 1940

The photos are a bit blurry because they were lifted from online sources, not the originals, and were printed in a library printer and later scanned; sorry!

Further Reading

I highly recommend My Confederate Kinfolk: A Twenty-First Century Freedwoman Discovers Her Roots by Thulani Davis, 2006, Basic Civitas Books. This book may be the first of its kind. While many African Americans understandably overlook their Confederate kin connections, it could be said that most African Americans, if they have European ancestors, would have been predominately white southerners, and most of those Confederate sympathizers.

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