Monday, August 3, 2009

Abe and Jeff, Brothers at Last

I have found ten black/biracial families with sons named Abe Lincoln and Jeff Davis in the 1870 and 1880 census records. All of them lived in the ex-Confederate South.

I won't pretend to know why anyone would name brothers Abe and Jeff, but I will offer a few observations:
  • In most cases, the children were born after 1865, suggesting that parents, rather than slaveowners, may have chosen these names.
  • In those cases where one of the brothers was born during the war, it is always Jeff, not Abe.
  • This pattern does not seem to be peculiar to any particular state, but it does seem to be limited to newly freed slaves in the ex-Confederate South.
I am a firm believer in the proposition that names convey meaning, but I'm not sure what the message is here. Is this a case of two names that "go together" because of ubiquitous pairings in news items and popular songs?

I can only suggest one political motivation that makes some sense:
I remember once reading a WPA slave narrative (admittedly, not the very best source) in which an elderly ex-slave characterized Lincoln and Davis as partners in bringing about the war that brought on freedom. He didn't distinguish between their motives — he argued that their quarrel created the necessary conditions for emancipation. If that was a wide-spread idea, it might account for the Abe-Jeff pairs.


Moris, Jeff Davis (b. 1865) and Abe Lincoln (b. 1870)
St. Stephens, AL
(Abe Lincoln is on the top of the next page of the census)

Caffee, Jeff Davis (b. 1865) and Abe Lincoln (b. 1865) twins
Troy, Arkansas

Bush, Jefferson (b. 1867) and Abraham L. (b. 1869)
Noxubee Co., MS

North Carolina:
Powell, Jeff Davis (b. 1866) and Abraham L. (b. 1867)
Tarboro, NC

Mason, Jeff D. (b. 1869) and Abe L. (b. 1865)
Montgomery Co., TN

Walker, Jeff Davis (b. 1863) and Abe Lincoln (b. 1865)
Giles Co., TN, 1880 Census

Baylis, Jefferson D. (b. 1863) and Abe L. (b. 1867)
(brother Andrew J)
Marion, TX

Bolan, Jeff Davis (b. 1866) and Abraham L. (1866) twins
Colorado Co., TX

 Robinson, Jeff Davis (b. 1864) and Abe Lincoln (b. 1867)
Liberty Co., TX

Broadnax, Jeff D. (b. 1861) and Abraham L. (b. 1865)
Drewryville, VA

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