- Last Updated on 12:00 AM 02/03/12
- BY Danielle Vaughn
Many African-Americans living in Halifax County today are descendents of slaves, but most have a hard time tracing their family’s history.
The institution of slavery disconnected many African-Americans from their heritage leaving descendents to wonder where they came from and who are their ancestors.
County resident Margaret Sutphin Waajid, who lives on Sutphin Road in South Boston, doesn’t have to wonder about her lineage any more.
After many years of researching her family’s history, Waajid has made a connection to many of her ancestors.
She began her research in 1991 after attending a family reunion where she learned she was descended from Cyrus Combs who was from Liberia and a former slave at the Bruce Plantation, now known as Berry Hill.
“I wanted to know about it. It amazed me that we knew exactly what part of Africa we came from,” Waajid said. “Once I found that out, I decided I wanted to find out more about our ancestors at Berry Hill Plantation.”
When Waajid began her search, she said she found out records of the Berry Hill Plantation were kept at the University of Virginia.
“I wrote to the University of Virginia and requested the records of the Berry Hill Plantation. We were fortunate we came from the Bruce Plantation because he was so famous, his records still exist at UVA which makes it easier to find information about our ancestors,” Waajid explained.
UVA informed Waajid that because slaves were considered property, she would have to request James Bruce’s personal property records.
Once Waajid obtained the records she was able take a look into the past.
Those records included information on how many slaves Bruce had working on each plantation and the names of the slaves and their dates of birth.
“Bruce had very good records about the slaves and what year they were born, and that meant a lot to me,” Waajid said
One set of records included Bruce’s descriptions of his slaves’ personalities and how much they were worth. One slave was described as slick and high-tempered.
“ I found this to be very interesting that they had a description of the slaves’ personalities. It gives some insight into what happened in the past,” Waajid said.
Through her research, Waajid was able to determine her paternal great-great-grandfather Cyrus Combs was born around 1822. It is believed Bruce brought Combs from Louisiana. It is unclear whether Bruce bought him or got him from one of the other plantations he owned.
Combs worked as a boatman at Berry Hill Plantation.
Bruce shipped tobacco in hogshead barrels down the river by bateaux, a French name for boat. These boats floated down the river to Weldon N. C., and from there it was shipped to England.
The upstream voyages returning to Berry Hill Plantation carried sugar coffee, tea, molasses, cotton, salt, rice, and cotton yarn. The boat was poled laboriously upstream by two men and a third man to guide the boat.
Combs, along with other slaves without out white supervision, were given the responsibility of a valuable cargo and sent on voyages that lasted for three to four weeks.
“You can just imagine the work load these men were given,” Waajid said.
At some point, Combs married a woman named Emily, and together they had five children: Pleasant, William, Silas, Patsy and Francis Combs.
Pleasant Combs, Waajid’s paternal great-grandfather, was born on Berry Hill Plantation in September of 1853.
After being freed in 1864, Combs received a share of the plantation from Alexander Bruce, son of James Bruce, who became owner when his father died.
Waajid continues to live on that land today. Her home is located on Sutphin Road, just 2.99 miles from the Berry Hill Mansion.
“Ever wonder why you live where you live?” Waajiid asked.
In his post slavery days, Combs owned a boat and shipped freight between Clarksville and Danville.
His four sons worked with him until his death. They sold the boat and then went their separate ways.
“I am proud of who my great-great-grandfather was and what he accomplished. He started out as a slave and ended up having his own boat,” Waajid said.
Pleasant Combs went on to marry Mariah Williams, and from this union came seven children including Waajid’s paternal grandmother, Mary Combs Sutphin.
Mary Combs Sutphin married William Sutphin, and they had eight children including Floyd Sutphin, Waajid’s father.
Even though Waajid spent a lot time with her grandmother, she said her grandmother never talked about her family history.
“The era of slavery was a hard time for African-Americans. I believe it was something they wanted to forget,” Waajid said.
However, she said it important to know history in order to have a connection with ancestors.
“I think it’s important that we know our history and that we pass it down to our children so they will be able to connect with their past,” Waajid said. “When you know your family history you have a love, respect and admiration for the people you came from. If it had not been for their survival, we would not be here today, and I am thankful for that. I honor and recognize them for that.”