Sunday, November 9, 2008

Memphis' contraband camps

A few years ago, I learned that my great-great grandfather, Daniel Walker Williams, had lived on President's Island for about twenty years. At the time, I had just begun researching his life and our family's history in Memphis, so I also then knew little of President's Island. I learned of his residence there after finding a Freedman's Bank record on which this residence was listed. Since then, I am aware that the contraband camp, Camp Dixie, was located on the island, and that many black men moved from there to Fort Pickering, where they were mustered into the United States Colored Troops. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to uncovering the history of black neighborhoods in Memphis. It saddens me that so little has been written of this history and that the city has not marked the site, to my knowledge. This is a task which I have given myself, and I hope that there are other interested persons out there.


chaz said...

What was his date of birth?

chaz said...

Was he ever in the service?

chaz said...

What was his wife's name?

AWalton said...

I have an ancestor who lived on the President's Island Contraband Camp from 1864 till the end of the war.

She was married to a man who became a soldier with the 59th US Colored Infantry. She later settled in the Whitehaven community south of Memphis. I understand that it is now a part of the metropolitan Memphis area.

I would love to hear more about President's Island.

alisea mcleod said...

Chaz and A. Walton, thanks for your interest. You'll notice that I've added a couple of pics this week taken while in Memphis for the holiday.

There is so much to tell about President's Island that I hardly know where to begin. You may find it useful to check out my other blogs (all works in progress). For sure, check out

Two points that I am making: one, more African Americans "escaped" to contraband camps than escaped on the Underground Railroad and, two, many blacks got a start in farming at contraband camps. I spent New Year's Eve and the following Friday in the Memphis Public Library looking at Freedmen's Bureau records. All of the evidence for these assertions are on record.

A. Walton, I'm very glad to connect with someone who has traced an ancestor to the island. Tell me more. How did you come by this information?

By the way, would you happen to be the A. Walton who wrote Mississippi: an American Journey? I read this book a few years back. Very interesting and very helpful. Lots of overlap with my research.