Redbones of Sumter
The News and Courier
May 25, 1897
Redbones of Sumter
A Sketch of James Edward Smiling, his Career and his Family Connections.
Privateer, Sumter County
Special: Living in the southeastern part of this township is an aged man of nearly four-score, with silvery hair and yellow complexion. A man not unlike the celebrated Frederick Douglas. This venerable man is James Edward Smiling, “the patriarch of the Privateer Redbones.” A man whose personal history and family connections make him a person of rather unique interest to the local historian.
Jim Smiling is now about 77 years old. In 1838 he became a carpenter, which trade he followed until a few years ago. He has also followed the profession of a Baptist minister. Fifty-six years ago he was married to a cousin of his- a member of the Goins family. His wife is now an old woman of about 71 years, and in considerably mixed with Indian: her face is not unlike one of that race. Including children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, this venerable couple have over fifty living descendants; these have intermarried with the Chavises, Goinses, Sweats, and other families belonging to the interesting “old issue,” or, properly speaking, “Redbone” people.
Smiling is the owner of considerably over two hundred acres of land. For fifty-two years he has been living in the house he now occupies. This settlement is in a clearing, which is in a swampy, very out of the way and rather wild part of the township. Not far from the front of the house is one of those swamps which are known throughout this section of country as “bays,” and which covers several hundred acres.
This venerable man has considerable intelligence for one in his station, and is an interesting person to talk with. During reconstruction times he was a person of some prominence in the political affairs of Sumter County: in 1868 he was elected a member of the Legislature. He was magistrate under governor Scott, and has also been trial justice
Like people of his peculiar racial condition Smiling had guardians before the war. At the commencement of the war he gave a horse, bridle. saddle and spur to one of the military companies of this county.
The Redbone people, with whom Smiling is identified, while they are colored, are nearly a distinct people from the “old time free negroes” proper. I have often talked with this old man about his people, concerning whom he has given me a good deal of information .
A Biographical Sketch of The Honorable James E. Smiling
James Edward Smiling was born in or about Privateer, South Carolina Sumter County in 1812. He was a carpenter in year 1838. He was a wheelwright & a blacksmith before 1838. He was elected as a member of the South Carolina State Legislature in 1868. He was a magistrate judge and served four years as a trial justice. He served as the first Chairman of the Republicans, Land Assessor, and the Manager of Elections in the Privateer Precinct. James served as the President of the Humane Brotherhood formed in Charleston, South Carolina (a benevolent society for Free Negros in the 1840’s). He served as a minister for his family community church – Bethesda Baptist Church Sumter, South Carolina.
Radical Members of the South Carolina Legislature
Attributed to J. G. Gibbes, Radical Members of the So. Ca. [South Carolina] Legislature, no date [ca. 1868?]. Albumen photograph. GA 2009.01025 and GA 2009.01024
Graphic Arts has two copies of this photograph of the 1868 South Carolina legislature, one slightly larger, 16 x 13 cm and one with a caption 7.5 x 5.5 cm.
The composite image documents the implementation of the Reconstruction Act of 1867, which redesigned the governing bodies of the southern states after the American Civil War. Not only did African Americans have the right to vote, but also serve within the government. When South Carolina rejoined the Union in 1868, they had the first state legislature with a black majority.
Created to frighten the white population, this image was widely distributed in many sizes and formats. One of our copies includes the text: These are the photographs of 63 members of the reconstructed South Carolina Legislature, 50 of whom are negroes or mulattoes and 13 white. 22 read and write (8 grammatically), the remainder (41) make their mark with the aid of an amanuensis. Nineteen (19) are tax-payers to an aggregate amount of $146.10, the rest (44) pay no taxes, and the body levies on the white people of the State for $4,000.00.
These images were found in a scrapbook of engravings, with a note saying they “apparently belonged to Mrs. J.V. Stromeyer, 164 E. 94th St. N.Y. … probably put to-gether in the 1870’s.” The album was given to the library by Mrs. John N. Reynolds in 1943.
James was known as James (Jim) Edward Johnson until around 1838. His mother married a FREEDMAN with the surname Johnson(possibly Daniel Johnson found in the 1829 with a guardian named Thomas E. Flowers and again in 1832 with his entire family showing a guardian named John Ballard). Around 1838 James took the last name of his grandfather which according to James, was Miley or Smiley and gave it a bit of a twist hence – Smiling. He first appears in 1840 as James Smiling who had agreed to have a Mr. Jacob H. Whitehead as his guardian.
Smiling Family Ties
A Foundation Built Through The Church
The core families in the Smiling Indians/Redbone Community that settled in the South Eastern portion of the Privateer Township in Sumter County South Carolina in the early 19th Century. The prominent surnames among these mighty pioneer warriors were Smiling, Chavis, Goings, and Gibbs. This community produced several distinguished Revolutionary War Soldiers in this pivotal war in the history of the United States.
Documented soldiers Thomas Gibbs Sr. and John Chavis & Frederick Goings who was killed in The Siege of Charleston in 1780.
A brief biographical sketch of Thomas Gibbs
circa 1749 – 6 Jun 1821 He was married to a Sarah “Sallie” Eady-Brown, the daughter of an Indian man named William Brown and a woman named Tabitha Eady. Thomas Gibbs purchased 931 acres of land on 5 December 1791 in the High Hills of Santee in the Camden District. This land was purchased in what would later be known as Sumter County. This land would provide the basis for land owned by the Smiling Indians Community for generations.
Per petition to the State Senate for his pension (Revolutionary War Claims File # 2780), Thomas Gibbs appears to have defected from one of the Regiments in the Service of the King of Great Britain where he held the dual post of Surgeon and Paymaster. Thomas Gibbs “rendered essential services to several American Officers and Soldiers who were wounded and in captivity”. One of those he helped may have been the storied General Thomas Sumter as they developed a bound that lasted for many years after the war. He may have also come in contact with Thomas Heather-Burbage during this time as Mr. Burbage was held captive for 14 months.
A brief biographical sketch of John Chavis
circa 1749 – 1823 and his family connection(s). My 5th Great Grandfather. He was married to a Mary “Polly” Brown-Gibbs, a daughter of Thomas & Sarah Gibbs.
Per his petition to the State Senate for his pension (Revolutionary War Claims File # 1213), John Chavis was severely wounded in battle. He first came to the Backcountry of South Carolina from the State of Virginia along with his parents and siblings circa 1749 per a Petition for 690 Acres of land dated 7 May 1751 by his father of the same name, John Chevis. The 690 acres was “situated on or near the branch of Stephens Creek, on waters of the Savannah River”. The family settled near an unnamed creek for two years (1749 1751). The creek would later be known until this day as “Chavis Creek”John’s petition for his pension would not be successful he did not have a guardian at the time of his petition. John would not be granted the pension because guardianship was a requirement for free persons of color. An injustice! He settled in the Saint Matthews Community of Orangeburg County and lived in or about the Orangebury/Barnwell areas most of his life. He died in 1823 when a tree fell and killed him.
A brief biographical sketch of Frederick Goings
circa unknown – 1780 and his family connection(s). The history of Frederick Goings/Gowens is a more elusive that of either Thomas Gibbs or John Chavis. Frederick was killed in the Siege of Charleston in 1780 per his (Revolutionary War Claims File # 2923 – A). This claim file reveals that Frederick was married to a Mary Burbage (Mary Heather-Burbage). The interviews conducted by Charles James Mcdonald Furman with the Smiling Indians Clan revealed that James E. Smiling’s mother (Mary) and a Jeremiah Goings (Matilda’s grandfather), were cousins. Per the interviews, James stated that his mother’s mother was named Patsy Burbage (Patsy Heather-Burbage) and that she was a sister to Thomas Heather-Burbage, a Baptist Preacher that preached in Wassamassaw, SC in Berkeley County near Goose Creek, SC where he made his home. Thomas Burbage was a soldier in the Revolutionary War who was captured at the Siege of Charleston and spent 14 months aboard British Ships.
It is my belief that Frederick Goings may very well have been the father of Jeremiah Goings. If James and Matilda Smiling to be cousins, the blood relation would have to come in on the Goins side of the family tree. A Goins & a Burbage would have to be the connection for this to be true. James E. Smiling pointed towards this scenario in his interview with Furman. There is a Matilda Heather-Burbage that married a Henry Unknown-Lucas circa 1755 – 1810. Henry lived and died in the Washington Township of Beaufort County, North Carolina. It is possible that this Matilda Heather-Burbage is the grandmother that James E. Smiling speaks of in his interview with Charles James McDonald Furman. This would make Jeremiah and Mary (the mother of James) related through the Burbage Sisters – Matilda Burbage-Lucas and Mary Burbage-Goings? More research and documentation is necessary to solidify this assertion. Note: Jeremiah Goins was married to an Edie Lucas. Their son was named Frederick Lucas-Goins, my 5th Great Grandfather.
James Edward Smiling can be found in the following published works:
Freedom’s Lawmakers by Eric Foner R 301.4509603 F673 1993 NY Oxford University Press Page 198
Black Over White (Political leadership in South Carolina during Reconstruction) By Thomas Holt R 328.7579 H758 1977 University of Illinois Press Page 239 (page not numbered)
Biographical directory of the South Carolina House of Representatives By House Research Committee R 328.7579 B615 v.1 University of South Carolina Press Page 410 H3695 (Congress Session 117 – (2007-2008). H3695 is a concurrent resolution to honor and recognize African Americans that served in the SC executive and legislative offices,
Black Masters By Michael P. Johnson and James L. Rourk, 301. 045096.J68 W.W. Norton & Company New York, May 16, 1986 Pages 44 & 45 Index of the Miscellaneous Documents of the House of Representatives First Session of the Forty-Fifth Congress, The Case of John S. Richardson vs. Joseph H. Rainey October 31, 1877 Pages 418 – 420
Late 1890’s Interviews with the Privateer, SC Redbones/Smiling Indians by Charles James McDonald Furman found in the South Carolina University and Smithsonian Institute.
1850 – 1900 U.S. Federal Census Sumter County, South Carolina