11 Nov 1878: More Than Meets The Eye

A number of years ago, a fellow descendant of Emeline Potts Eppes located an 1878 deed of trust for Emeline in the Greensville County, Virginia courthouse.

11 Nov 1878 Emeline Eppes Deed of Trust Greensville County Deed Book 12, p. 239
Transcription of 11 Nov 1878 Emeline Eppes Deed of Trust

My Eppes cousin, (S.H.), located this document about a decade ago and it remains as awesome a document as it was when first discovered. This record shows that Emeline was a land owner, a landowner in need of a mortgage loan, but still a landowner.

We know about Emeline. I’ve shared that she had been held enslaved by clerk of Greensville County Court, John W. Potts. Potts found himself needing to draw out a deed of trust for his own debts, including Emeline, her four children, and six other souls as security.

By 1878, Emeline had been in a relationship with Benjamin Eppes for a number of years. They appeared together, along with five children, including my 3rd great-grandmother, Josephine, in the 1870 U.S. Census.

1870 U.S. Census Record Showing Benjamin and Emeline’s Household

While Emeline and Benjamin shared a family and household together, they were officially married in 1882. Benjamin’s name appears no where on this 11 Nov 1878 deed of trust and that is very curious.

Whose name does appear? The name of the lender to Emeline, is Benjamin D. Tillar. Benjamin Donaldson Tillar, Jr. to be exact.

Benjamin D. Tillar Jr (1853-1887) Historical Marker
Benjamin D. Tillar Jr, Courtesy: NadiaLandGreene

In 1992, the Virginia Department of Historic Resources wrote: Benjamin Donaldson Tillar, Jr. (1853-1887), a Greensville County native, president of the Atlantic and Danville Railroad, and member of the House of Delegates, is known as “the man who named Emporia.” Two villages, Hicksford and Belfield, merged in 1887 to form the town.

In the deed of trust, Tillar’s name is without generational distinction. Given that Benjamin Tillar is a Jr, how do we know that his father didn’t deed the land to Emeline? It’s because Benjamin Donaldson Tillar Sr. died in 1874.

The trustee for Emeline’s deed of trust was Etheldred L. Turner. Who was he? 1867 Virginia Military Institute graduate, Etheldred Lundy Turner (1847-1900), was a clerk of court for Greensville County and the son of former clerk, Joseph Turner.

How was it that Emeline was in such association with such prominent men? This is speculation, but I do believe that Emeline’s relative was Clara Mabry. Mabry herself had previously received deeds of trust from “the benevolent gentlemen” of Greensville County. I also believe that Emeline was a blood relative (daughter?) of John W. Potts. The man who had held her and her children enslaved. Potts had passed away just a few weeks after Emeline’s 11 Nov 1878 deed of trust. Coincidence or not? I find the timing interesting either way.

JW Potts’ 12 Dec 1878 Roanoke News Death Announcement

While I was thrilled to see that copy of Emeline’s deed of trust, I couldn’t help wondering if there were more to that single document. Even the notes on the left margin of that page begged questions, what were the date referencing? Also, just when did Emeline purchase this land?

And so in 2018, I requested microfilm from the Library of Virginia through my local library’s inter-library loan program. After a fair amount of search time while at the library, pay dirt 🥳:

Greensville County Deed Book 12, pgs. 238 & 239

The microfilm scan of the page reveals very importantly the answer to my question about the dates in the margin. A release deed, originally dated 26 Nov 1880, per the margin note.

Notes on a Release Deed for Emeline

Per lawdepot.com, a release deed of trust or deed of reconveyance “is documentation that the debt secured by a Deed of Trust (a document that allows a third-party to hold the title to a property until it is completely paid for) has been fully paid.” —-This means that Emeline satisfied the terms of her deed of trust (mortgage) and paid her debt in full.

What an important detail to know! In fact, after learning this exciting detail concerning Emeline’s deed of trust, I didn’t pore over the record again until late last year, 2020.

And what did I find?

Hmm, it’s easy to say “don’t assume,” it’s a bit more difficult to actually put that into regular practice. That is to say. I’d really assumed/presumed/imagined that Emeline had owned her land for a number of years before she needed this loan. Well, upon my closer inspection of the page immediately preceding Emeline’s 11 Nov 1878 deed of trust, I saw that Emeline’s name appeared again.

A deed of bargain and sale. Lo and behold, on page 238, there was the land sale from Benjamin D. Tillar and his wife, Sallie (Sallie Ann Jones (1855-1911), to my Emeline Eppes!

11 Nov Deed of Bargain and Sale from Benjamin D. Tillar and Wife to Emeline Eppes

Greensville County Deed Book 12, p. 238

As you can see, you can barely see the script on this page. If I’d looked more closely at this particular page while at the library, I would have fine tuned the contrast w/the microfilm viewer and software. As it is, I’m trying every photo editing trick in the book in the hopes of viewing the words on the page more clearly.

Before and After Editing Contrast on 11 Nov 1878 Deed of Bargain and Sale
Better? 🤨

Here’s what I’ve been able to decipher:

The land sale was made the same day as the deed of trust. Emeline, who operated a butchery in 1866, per U.S. I.R.S. Tax Assessment Lists paid one hundred dollars “cash in hand” to Tillar.

Emeline Operated a Butchery in 1866

The land was located in the Village of Hicksford. (Hicksford and Belfield would combine to become the town of Emporia, Virginia.) The land was situated on “Dry Bread Road.” Further, the land sits “where Hicksford Church once stood,” according to the record.

Very intriguing.

What’s not as clear is the size of the land plat. I think that I can make out 2 acres, according to the land deed. Emeline’s deed of trust does refer to the land as being “50 feet front to 200 feet deep.”

Finding this information has been so rewarding. It’s difficult to put into words. The document itself is a genealogical treasure and having the reference to the original location of Hicksford Church is such an amazing clue that there are many more discoveries involving dear Emeline to be made.

Next, we’ll learn more about “where Hicksford Church originally stood…”

In closing, let’s look, double-look, and pore over each historical record that we are fortunate to obtain. There’s such a dearth of comprehensive historical records for our Black ancestors, it’s quite easy to be complacent with the breakthrough of finding an important document. Let’s dig deeper and find more. The example of Emeline and the records of 1878 certainly demonstrates that it is possible.

Best to you in your search! Thanks for stopping by to consider our situation…

The Genealogy Situation Room

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