Last week, as part of our recognition of Black History Month, we wrote about a former slave whose last name was “Reed.”
Mr. Reed’s story was included in a book of recollections of former slaves collected and written down as part of the Works Progress Administration during the Great Depression.
The Historical Society has a copy of the book.
Mr. Reed’s story is of interest to us because it was the only one in the collection of narratives to have been given by a former resident of Trousdale County!
The excerpt in the book did not tell where he was born, but Mr. Reed was living here when he received emancipation in the 1860s.
He spoke of the hard work he and his family did on the farm of his owners.
He was lucky enough to have never been separated from his parents and siblings, but he never had a pair of shoes until he was able to purchase a pair for himself after gaining his freedom. He spoke of picking the tobacco worms off of the leaves of the tobacco plants and said that if he was found to have missed one, he had to bite its head off as punishment!
While his story was engaging and interesting, it left something out. Never in the interview did he give his first name. All we knew is that his last name was Reed, and that came from the last family that held him in slavery.
As our county historian, I wanted to know more about Mr. Reed and his story, but without a first name and any date of birth, I was looking for a needle in a haystack.
Mr. Reed got an education after emancipation and became a preacher. In his story he says, “I have been a Christian ever since I was seventeen years old. I have been a minister ever since I was twenty-two.”
But that wasn’t enough to go on, so I set that project aside until I could find more. Then last year I was looking through old copies of The Tennessean newspaper using an online website.
Since I was using “Trousdale County” as my search word, any article that mentioned our county would appear on my computer screen.
While looking through issues from 1944, I saw an article about the last five surviving former slaves living in Nashville. The article had the words “Trousdale County” somewhere in it, so I hit a key on the computer and the full article was right in front of me.
To my delight, the article quoted one of the former slaves, “Whoo-eee, I sure remember the day that freedom came,” said R.C. Reid, of 1711 Cockrill Street.”
Was that my Mr. Reed? The spelling was different, so I continued reading.
“Reid pointed out that he was sold once and freed three times — once at the close of the war, once when he was ‘saved from the devil’, and the third time when his father declared him free to leave home and make his own way in the world.
The favorite story Reid likes to tell is about the time he walked 60 miles to preach. “I started out in Trousdale, and wound up in Rutherford County.”
“I preach now sometimes,” he said. Then he added with a grin, “When they let me!”
I had my man! With this new information, I was now able to do some more research.
I started with the Nashville census records and in the 1930 census I found “Mr. R.C. Reed, Cockrill Street, Nashville.”
Once again, I didn’t have his full name, just his initials, so I kept searching.
The census also listed Mr. Reed’s daughter and son-in-law as living at the same address.
Using his daughter’s name, I was able to find her death certificate and on that was listed the names of her parents. Her father was given as “Mr. Reuben C. Reed.”
Now I could look for his death certificate and I found it, giving me this information: “Reuben C. Reed, born June 23, 1855, in Trousdale County. Died, January 2, 1947, aged 91.”
What a remarkable life this gentleman had, from slavery to success with a family, his own home and a life spent preaching God’s word. Truly a life well spent!