Who was Jenny Cook? Part One

For the first 30 or so years of her life, she was likely known only by her given name, Jenny. It was later that she would be given a surname that she would pass on to her descendants.

Jenny plays an integral part in the discoveries thus far unearthed in the search for the Louisiana 16. For those just tuning in, the Louisiana 16 is a research project involving slaves (purportedly 16 in number) who were sold in 1834 by President James Madison to his cousin William Taylor. Taylor would relocate them to Louisiana. The project expects to further the knowledge of these men and women and identify additional living descendants. However, it is not believed that Jenny was one of the 16, but rather enslaved on a plantation in adjacent Culpeper County.

Your curiosity may be a match for my own and I am happy to share how I came to this theory. It is critical to understand at least a couple of elements of the back story.

William Taylor was purchasing individuals who could be placed immediately in the cotton and/or sugar fields, requiring that they be hardy and most likely between the ages of fifteen and thirty. This would dictate a birth range between 1804 and 1819.

The second critical piece of evidence is that on October 16, 1834, William Taylor was married to Lucy Lewis Thom of Berry Hill Plantation in Culpeper County, VA. After the festivities, Mr. and Mrs. Taylor left for Fredericksburg accompanied by Lucy’s half-sister Betty to embark on the lengthy journey to Louisiana- by stage and then steamboat. An account of their departure from Fredericksburg west is found in the book My Dear Brother, A Confederate Chronicle by Catherine Thom Bartlett.

“Boxes and trunks were piled upon the stage, a place was found for Lucy’s maid, the last farewells were said and they were off.”

A search of the Culpeper County records in the hope of finding the record of a sale to Taylor or a gift or dowry to Lucy from Col. John Thom produced nothing for 1834. Perhaps, the maid had been gifted to Lucy years before or never officially recorded. As of today, there is no name for this woman who travelled with Lucy and William Taylor from Culpeper to Louisiana.

However, it does raise questions. How old was this woman; was she older or younger than her mistress? In 1834, Lucy Lewis Thom Taylor would have been about 28 years old. Did she leave behind parents, grandparents, siblings or even children?

When Col. Thom died in 1855, he manumitted several of his slaves and bequeathed others to his children, including Lucy. Jenny is not mentioned in the listings, as we can presume she was residing in Louisiana and “owned” by Lucy or William Taylor at the time. Nonetheless, there are others named with both a surname and a given name. Simms was a surname carried by Fanny, a woman born about 1800, who was also the apparent mother of Kitty Simms Nalle, wife of Charles Nalle owned by Blucher Hansbrough of nearby Coles Hill.

Aha, the plot thickens as there is a well- documented story about Charles Nalle, but that story will be another day. Were these women Jenny’s kin and could there be descendants in the area today?

Stay tuned for what happened to Lucy’s maid once she arrived in Louisiana.


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