In a living room in York on a recent Saturday, more than 80 people gathered. They were "all shades and hues," of black people, said the host of the gathering, Strauss Moore Shiple.
They all gathered for the first time because they have one thing in common: They now know that they all share a common ancestor by the name of Bratton.
It's the Bratton family that owned the plantation near McConnells that was the site of a Revolutionary War battle -- now Historic Brattonsville, where history is kept alive.
Yes, the Bratton ancestor was a white slave owner.
These people are black.
"One branch of the Bratton family tree is black, fathered by a man named Bratton who owned slaves and had children by them," said Shiple, 54, who has worked with family for years to find cousins who came from the Bratton line. "My mother is a Bratton. It happened. I can't control it. It is part of who we are."
Bill Cathcart, 71, another member of the family, has a list of slaves who became free that the Bratton family had to provide to the Union Army after the Confederacy was defeated in the Civil War.
That's the closest thing to a record of where people came from, Cathcart said. Because blacks were not counted properly in census counts before slavery and afterward into the 20th century, and births often were not accurately recorded, blacks have a harder time tracking their ancestry, Cathcart said.
The last names the family has shown that have direct ancestry to the Brattons of Brattonsville are Crawford and Moore, Smith and Bratton, Lowry and Feaster and Cathcart.
"For so long, we did not know where we came from," Cathcart said. "Our history was not recorded, like that of whites. We have had to take a long time to figure this out."
In that list, Cathcart points out a woman named Lila, who had a child from the Bratton man.
"That is part of where I come from," Cathcart said.
Hundreds of descendants likely
Family research began when Bertha Roddey, a professor and historian, was creating a more realistic slave experience for Brattonsville to show the public.
As blacks came back to Brattonsville, workers would write down anybody's name who thought they had a descendant from that area. Through follow-ups to those conversations and using what knowledge older people have, the family has so far identified the 80-plus people who recently came together -- but it is clear there are hundreds more, said Margaret Crawford-Parson of the family.
"This part of our history, of American history, has to be dealt with," Crawford-Parson said. "I didn't know my own full heritage when I was fighting for equality when I was a student at South Carolina State in the 1960s. I'm still learning about who we are in this family."
Cathcart, who frequently gives talks about the civil rights era, said both blacks and whites must learn to deal with the reality that some families, far enough back, come from the same root of a family tree.
"For so long, it was not talked about, not discussed, and not just by whites," Cathcart said. "Blacks didn't want to discuss it. But we should know who we are and where we come from."
The reunion of the black branch of the Bratton family tree is not the end of the journey to find more far-flung cousins. The family is in the planning stage of forming a non-profit foundation to help with research and bringing people together.
"What is now called Brattonsville is an important part of York County's history," Shiple said. "And what we want to do is show that our side of the family, all descended from that same Bratton family, have a place in that history, too."
For More information
Want to know more about the black descendants of the Bratton family? E-mail Strauss Moore Shiple at firstname.lastname@example.org; Margaret Crawford-Parson at email@example.com; or call Bill Cathcart at 803-417-9734.