Sunday, August 15, 1999

'And the slaves were set free'

The Anderson family ledger has been handed down through four generations, including Rosa Davis, left, and her son Eddie Davis, right. Dorothy Hiles is Rosa Davis' second cousin.
(Michael Snyder photo)
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        Dorothy Cobb Hiles, 72, of Roselawn is retired from Hilton Davis Chemical Co. and is the oldest of George and Irma Anderson Cobb's four children. Mrs. Hiles is a descendant of the Anderson family that settled in Brown County in 1819 as part of the Samuel Gist Settlement.

        The Anderson family has held a reunion almost every year in Cincinnati since 1938 on the last weekend of August.

        This is the story of the Brown County Andersons in the words of Mrs. Hiles as told to Enquirer reporter Mark Curnutte:

        Samuel Gist was an English slaveholder and land owner in Virginia. He went back to England during the Revolutionary War, and he left his holdings here to be run by his son-in-law, whose name happened to be William Anderson.

        Before his death, Gist instructed that his former slaves be settled in Sierra Leone, a country in Africa, or in a free state. That's why they picked Ohio. It was a free state.

        His people bought land for them up in Brown County, Ohio. There were some other counties, Erie, I think, but Brown County is where my people are from.

        It was 1815 when Gist died, and the slaves were set free.

        I always thought we were direct descendants of William Anderson because his wife couldn't have children. I think he might have fathered children with the slaves. And the name William Anderson just keeps coming up in our family.

Dorothy Cobb Hiles holds a family ledger dating back to at least 1864.
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Freedom journey
        When they started on their journey, and our family records show there were between 275 and 500 freed slaves, they came from Hanover County, Va., and — probably by foot — traveled over 500 miles. And they settled up in Georgetown in 1819. And that's where they lived.

        Nelson Anderson, a freed slave, is my direct ancestor. He was a slave as a child. He got here when he was 17. And his future wife was 15; her name was Sarah Smith. They were married in Georgetown.

        They lived in Scott Township in Brown County and had 11 children. Nelson was a farmer and lived until 1890. He was 88.

        Nelson Anderson's oldest son was William Anderson, my great-grandfather. William was born in 1823. He married Elizabeth Page in Georgetown in 1846. And they had 10 children. That's how we are related to the Pages.

        You know Wilbur Page? Before he died, he was the pastor for a long, long time at Union Baptist Church (in Cincinnati).

        William moved his family to Williamsburg around 1870. There was a large lumber industry there. We consider Williamsburg the family's home base.

Large families
        There were a lot of Andersons in the area around Georgetown and Williamsburg (eastern Clermont County). The Andersons have a big plot in the cemetery at Williamsburg.

        When I started going to the cemetery to look at graves and take my pictures, the sexton saw me and said, “You must be an Anderson.” His father was sexton before him.

        He told me the Andersons used to sing. And on Veterans Day, they called it Armistice Day back then, they used to sing at things like that. They'd have a patriotic performance, and the Andersons used to sing.

        We're just one of many families from the Gist Settlement.

        When I retired from Hilton Davis, I would mention I was going to research my family in Williamsburg. And they'd say, “Who do you know in Williamsburg?” These would be some of my white friends. And I would say, “There are a lot of black people in Williamsburg. They're just all dead.”

        My grandfather was Abraham Lincoln Anderson. He was the youngest of 10 children.

        President Lincoln was assassinated in 1865, and my grandfather was born in 1866. And he was a twin. And they named one Abraham and one Lincoln. Lincoln died when he was an infant, and the other assumed the name Lincoln.

        Abraham was a landscaper. He was born in Williamsburg and eventually came to Cincinnati. He died in 1937.

        Abraham married Rosetta Graves in 1888, and they had seven children. My mother, Irma Anderson, was born in Cincinnati. They had moved to Oakley. They lived in Norwood on Sherman.

Unanswered questions
        The Anderson family reunions started in 1938, the year after Grandpa died.

        When I think of all the people who were there when I was a little girl — I wish I knew then what I know now. I wish I had asked a lot of questions. It's the kind of things I'm still trying to find out. You know, what they did for a living. What they liked to do.

        With only a couple exceptions, reunions have been held annually since '38. The common questions asked are, “Who's child are you and how are we related?” And I'd respond, “Ir ma's my mother, and Abe was my grandfather.” And this would go on all the time.

        At the reunions, there'd always come a time when there'd be a family meeting. The younger people would just kind of listen, and the older ones would get up and talk.

        We'd sing hymns, and they'd have prayer, and different ones would tell about the family. That's how we found out about the Gist Settlement.

        A man who was related to one of my mother's cousins had gone to England. He had a copy of the will of Samuel Gist. He brought it back and read it to us. Everybody was under the impression that we were going to get a lot of money. Of course, that never came to pass.

Musical talent
        I remember my grandfather. Abraham, would go around and visit family, and he'd always get dressed up. He wore straw hats in the summertime. My grandmother had died. Women used to say, “Oh, Mr. Anderson” when he'd say something funny.

        He'd visit relatives in Blue Ash, Madisonville, Walnut Hills. All over to visit his children and grandchildren. He went by streetcar. He didn't have a car. Nobody had a car.

        I thought Grandpa was rich. And I'd say, "Grandpa, give me a nickel.' And he'd always give you a dime or a quarter. And that would go a long way back then. You'd get an ice cream cone for a nickel and it would be this (6 inches) high.

        He played guitar. Most of the Andersons played string instruments.

        In fact, his son Edwin Anderson sang and played mandolin and guitar, and he played with this group called the Ohio Jubilee Lads. And they were from Cleveland and would play Negro spirituals, plantation melodies and funny songs.

        Edwin was my mother's brother. My mother married George Cobb in 1926. I had three brothers. Two are still living. George lives in Los Angeles. And Mitchell lives in Kennedy Heights.

        I had two children. I have one daughter; her name is Susan Hiles Meadows. She lives in Forest Park. She is 44.

        I had a son, Walter Hiles; they called him Butch. He died in '74. My husband was Walter Hiles Sr. They called him Buddy. He died in 1968.

        Susan has one son. His name is Lowell Hiles. He's 19. He went to Walnut Hills (High School). He's at Raymond Walters, UC, now.

        Even though we didn't have anybody famous, we have many people we are proud of. We have Ph.Ds. Two of my first cousins, Vernon Stone and Roy Stone, my Aunt Ethel's sons, should have been valedictorians at Sycamore High School in the 1930s. But they didn't give it to them because they were black. They're the ones with their Ph.Ds.

        Jerome Wynn was one of the first black firefighters in the Cincinnati Fire Department and one of the first black captains (the fourth). His mother and I are second cousins.

Homemade favorites
        Most of the reunions were held at the Cincinnati Milling Machine park in Oakley. In re cent years, we've had them at Roselawn Park and Alms Park.

        I was president of the reunion from 1976 to 1984; anywhere from 100 to 150 would come, and that was just a fraction of the people.

        Everyone would bring their dinners. We'd put it all out in a big banquet table, and you'd serve yourself. You were supposed to bring enough for your own family plus enough for others.

        Everybody loved my macaroni and cheese. They still do. In fact, every time we get together, it's “Cousin Dorothy, you bring the macaroni and cheese, OK?” But I'd always take extra string beans and ham. You'd also take cakes and pies, whatever. Somebody would always bake their special cobbler.

        I remember my sister-in-law at one time was trying to get us to cater it. I remember my daughter saying, “No, that's one of the reasons I go. For the homemade food.”

Proud, free people
        We always have the reunion the fourth Saturday in August. On the 29th of August two years ago (1997) it happened to be my cousin Rosa Davis' 90th birthday. She's the oldest living Anderson, and she lives with her son, Eddie. That's out in Hollydale. It's the black subdivision next to Glendale.

        One of the things that was always going on at family reunions was my Aunt Ethel always saying, “We've always been a free people.” We used to hear this all the time. Because we always assumed, like most African-Americans, that we weren't free until the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. So that was always kind of kept in front of us:

        “We've always been a free people.”

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