Reuben Hart: FL/AL Pioneer, Slaveholder & Enigma

It is believed that Reuben HART was born in NC around 1783, migrated to GA sometime before 1810, migrated first to south Alabama then to northwest Florida sometime around 1816-1817, then back to Alabama before 1840. In tow from Georgia to Alabama/Florida were his family  – wife Nancy Ann RIGDON HART and their children Reuben, Jr.; John; William Henry; Robert Joshua; Isaac; Daniel; Allen Haze; Mary Ann and Andrew Jackson. Richard Jefferson and Dennis Erwin were born in Conecuh Co, AL and Escambia Co, FL respectively. Like a number of the other early settlers in the upper Yellow River area, Reuben and family were in Conecuh Co, AL (likely just above the Florida line in what would become Covington Co, AL) for the 1820 census and moved into Florida after the census was completed.  He is listed on the 1824 Congressional Record of Claims to West Florida land between 22 Feb 1819 and 17 July 1821 indicating he was in Florida between 1820 and 1824.

1823 Tanner Henry S FL Map

1823 Map of Florida by Henry S. Tanner

In the 1830 census, Reuben HART and family are in E. Escambia County, along with several of his sons who had established their own households: Reuben Jr; John; and Isaac. In this census, the children that appear to be still at home were Allen Haze, Mary Ann, Andrew Jackson, Richard Jefferson and Dennis Erwin. In addition to the children and Reuben and Nancy, there were seven (7) enslaved persons: 1 male under 10, 2 males 10 < 24, 3 females 10 < 24 and 1 female 24 < 36.

In 1837, during the Second Seminole War, several of the Hart boys fought. Reuben Jr fought first in Capt Long’s Co and then in Barrow’s Mounted Co. John, Isaac, Daniel and Allen Haze served in Barrow’s Mounted Company.  Barrow’s Mounted Company was part of the 1st Regiment of Florida Militia and served in the War from May 1837 to January 1838. It was commanded by Reuben BARROW, son of John BARROW and brother of Richmond BARROW.

By 1840, Reuben Sr and Nancy were in Covington Co, AL (again). It would appear from the census tic marks that Dennis and Richard may still have been in the household and there are 4 girls: 1 under 5, 1 5-10, 1 10-15 and 1 15-20 that I do not have any information on at this point. The household also had 22 enslaved persons: 2 males < 10, 3 males 10 < 24, 5 females < 10 (one of these may be the Harriett HART mentioned below), 1 female 10 < 24, 2 females 24 < 36, and 1 female 36 < 55 years of age. At this point, Reuben Sr’s children were scattered over south Alabama and northwest Florida. Reuben Jr. was in Walton County and John, William Henry, Isaac, Daniel and Andrew Jackson were in Covington Co, AL. I am not sure where Robert Joshua (he may have died) and Allen Haze were. I have been told that Mary Ann married a Daniel JONES but I have not yet researched them.

It was in June 1840 that Yellow River Baptist Church was founded. There were no HARTS listed on the founding document but the first membership list that was completed between June and December 1840 included the following HARTS: Daniel, John, William, Reuben Sr, Catherine, Polly, Elizabeth, Margaret, and Sarah. The vast majority of the black members listed on this 1840 membership list were listed with the surname of HART in a later membership list from the 1850s. They were: Jerry, Sally, Charlotte, Darky, Jude, Mary, and Molly.

1840 Membership List

First Membership list taken between June 1840 and December 1840.

The decade of the 1840s was a busy time in northwest Florida and the Upper Yellow River area and the HART men left a number of records. Reuben Jr signed a petition concerning the Yellow River in 1842 and voted in the first statewide election in May 1845. Daniel, Allen Haze, and Dennis Erwin also signed the petition concerning the Yellow River. In 1846, Nancy Ann RIGDON HART is supposed to have died. Church records only indicate her death with no date.  This decade also saw John and William Henry move to Hardin Co, TX around the time their mother died.

Reuben HART Sr remained in Covington Co, AL for the rest of his life. In 1850, his household was comprised of himself, his son Dennis, his daughter-in-law Margaret and their son Isaac and 21 enslaved persons. Also in Covington County in 1850 were his sons Allen Haze, Isaac, and John. Allen had two black men enslaved; 1 was 34 and 1 was 45. The only other son who held enslaved persons in 1850 was Reuben’s son Daniel. Daniel was in Santa Rosa County and held 13 persons.

In 1860, Reuben is in his son Dennis’ household. He was listed as a farmer who owned $700 in real estate property and $5300 in personal property. On the slave schedules for 1860, Reuben had 6 slaves and Dennis had 2. In Walton County, Allen Haze had 2 black males in his household in Santa Rosa County, Daniel had 20 slaves in his household in Santa Rosa County. Reuben died in 1864, according to the Yellow River Baptist Church early membership records.

The recording of Stewart Cemetery from the 1980s did not show a headstone for Nancy Ann or Reuben Sr but their son Reuben and his wife were both there. Both Nancy and Reuben were members of the church when they died but, at the time, the church was in its original location (likely east of the current location) and Stewart Cemetery was not the church cemetery, it was a newly established community cemetery for Oak Grove/Barrow’s Ferry. I wrote about these cemeteries in a previous post. Reuben and Nancy Ann have been assumed to be buried in Stewart Cemetery but we can not be sure of that. It is also possible they are buried in Covington County near or on the property they owned or they could be buried at the Old Yellow River Cemetery, which is east of the current church location.

I’ve spent a fair amount of this blog introducing the black persons who were in the Reuben HART household. I have done that for a specific reason. A few years ago, I received an email through the DNA service where I had my mother and my DNA done. George and I (and my mother) shared a small amount of DNA and he wanted to know if I had ever run across a Harriett HART married to a Robert MOORE in my research and indicated he had found them in the 1880 Santa Rosa County census. I was curious that I had managed to miss them so I searched at Ancestry and had my answer. Robert was listed as black and Harriett was listed as mulatto.

George also shared a page from the Yellow River Baptist Church records he had gotten from Baker Block Museum that showed Harriett HART received by baptism into the church on 22 Sept 1859 (She was 40 in 1880 on the census, which puts her age at 21 when she joined the church.). We had a highly interesting phone conversation after that and talked about the HARTs as slaveholders and the forced, and violent, expulsion of blacks from the Oak Grove area that occurred in the 1920s (another story for another blog). I had to admit I had failed to really research my ancestors’ ownership of slaves but at that moment I made a decision to document all of my ancestors’ households because I would never know when that might lead to a distant cousin with information to share to put my ancestors in better social context.

I am hoping that I can spend some quality research time with the black members of Oak Grove as I research my book and complete the one-place study on Oak Grove. In looking in detail at the HART families who held enslaved persons between 1840 through 1860, it seems reasonable that the father of at least some of the children listed as mulatto was Reuben Sr (probable candidate), Daniel (likely candidate) or Dennis (possible candidate). The first two because they are the two that held a number of slaves, including children, listed as mulatto. Dennis is on the short list because he was a young man in his father’s household in 1840 and 1850 when many of these children were born. Some bad behaviors do extend down into subsequent generations so there may be more than one HART father of these children. This bad behavior was likely one that transcended  generations.

I have not clearly linked Reuben Sr to any earlier HART lines yet. If there is anyone out there with good documentation on who his parents were, I would love to share information. He just seems to appear in Washington Co, GA in 1810. This family calls me to sit down, review my work, re-think and draft a new plan of attack to solve the mysteries. Maybe in 2018 after I finish my book on Oak Grove.

Until Next Time


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5 thoughts on “Reuben Hart: FL/AL Pioneer, Slaveholder & Enigma

  1. Were you ever trying to connect Reuben Hart with the other Hart’s in Covington Co., Al. And Conecuh County. Henry Hart, Carr Hart, Jordon Hart, and maybe Warren Hart + others? Would love to hear from you.


    • Becky, I’ve done basic research on each of Reuben’s sons and did census searches down through their children. Any further down has occurred through folks sharing and my being able to make the connection or just finding an article that made a connection. I don’t seem to have the names you mention in my database and I do believe there was one other HART in this area that may or may not be related to Reuben. I will send you an email so we can discuss in detail. Thanks for contacting me.


  2. Pingback: The Black and White of Oak Grove, Okaloosa Co, FL | Northwest Florida History & Genealogy

  3. Pingback: Three of the Older Cemeteries along the western side of the Upper Yellow River | Northwest Florida History & Genealogy

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