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New Research Illuminates — and Complicates — the Story of John Hardison Redd

Researcher upends her own family history;
ours, too

By Celia R. Baker
 
“Mulatto.”
The politically-incorrect word leapt from the page of the 1870 census for Spanish Fork, Utah. Tonya Reiter stared at it, and the name beside it: Flady Ainge, her maternal great-grandmother.
 
Flady Ainge’s 1864 birth had always been a bit of a family mystery. Ainge family lore held that Flady was adopted into the family, but Reiter knew her real story. Her research showed that Flady was born out of wedlock to Emma Ainge, an English convert that came to Utah with her parents. The adoption story obscured an illicit pregnancy, deeply taboo in early Utah society. Flady’s father’s name was never spoken of. But now, Reiter had a clue about him — and about herself.
 
“When you find out in your late 40s that you have black ancestry, it’s life-changing,” Reiter said in a November 2017 interview for The John Hardison Redd and Elizabeth Hancock Family Organization. “Growing up LDS, and hearing all the stuff we heard through our young lives about the curse of Cain and all the rest of it (*see note) — Well, suddenly that’s not somebody else’s problem. Suddenly, it’s me. It really caused a shift in my perspective.”

  
Harsh truths:  As Reiter continued her quest to understand her heritage, more unexpected discoveries came to light. The recent public availability of DNA testing helped Reiter prove she is descended from an enslaved man who was born to a black woman, but fathered by a white man. She detailed her findings in an article for Utah Historical Quarterly, Vol. 85 No. 2. Reiter’s research adds to a growing canon of knowledge about the lives of Utah’s black pioneers. It details — with curiosity and respect — the surprising intersection between Reiter’s family and the Redds.
 
The bare facts, steeped in the culture of a distant time and place, are harsh: Reiter’s mystery progenitor was a man named Luke Redd, born into slavery in pre-Civil war North Carolina. Luke’s mother, Venus, was a black slave owned by Elizabeth Hancock Redd. Elizabeth’s husband — Luke’s biological father — was our progenitor, John Hardison Redd, a fact proven by Y-chromosome DNA testing. Circumstantial evidence suggests that Redd fathered children with Chaney too.
 
Taking Responsibility: Descendants of John Hardison Redd and Elizabeth Hancock have a new set of cousins to add to the family tree, and Reiter is one of them. They also have a chance to learn more about their progenitor’s flawed humanity and his ultimate integrity. Reiter tells her story with compassion and nuance. John Hardison Redd emerges as a man who made unusual efforts to right wrongs of his past.
 
“He saw a responsibility toward those children that he’d had, and those black women, and he fulfilled that responsibility,” Reiter said. “If you read about some of the other slave owners, there is no comparison. John Hardison Redd clearly felt an obligation to these people. I think he did the honorable thing, and I can’t condemn him.”
 
Reiter’s respect for John Hardison Redd arises from her research. She sees his 1843 conversion to the LDS church as a turning point in his life. After his baptism, no more children were born to the slave women. He kept their families intact, and provided for the women throughout their lives.
 
When property was divided after his death, the remaining servants in his household were given allotments equal to those received by his five legitimate children. Venus, Luke and Marinda (probably Chaney’s daughter) were given shares of farmland equal to those given to Redd’s heirs. 
 
“That is huge,” Reiter said. Documents relating to the division of property by the Redds set the family apart from other Southern pioneer families who brought enslaved people into Utah, she noted, because no evidence has been found to show that other slave-owning families bequeathed property for their servants. “By providing for all of them, he appears to have made the best of tangled family relationships that had begun before his Christian conversion,” Reiter wrote in her article.
 
Linking generations: Reiter’s initial discovery that her great-grandmother was bi-racial led to a search for Flady Ainge’s father among the relatively few black men known to be in Utah at the time. She began learning all she could about black history in Utah. Luke Redd’s proximity in the Spanish Fork area made him a likely candidate.
 
Hard proof emerged in the form of a letter written to George Albert Smith by Albert King Thurber, an LDS bishop in Spanish Fork, concerning an 1864 trial in Provo’s First District Court. The defendants were Flady Ainge’s mother, Emma Ainge, and Luke Redd, a servant in the Redd household, who were accused of “lewdness resulting in her having a child.” 
 
The advent of personal DNA testing gave Reiter a way to test what she had learned, with herself as the guinea pig. By this time, she wasn’t surprised when the test revealed she had a small percentage of African DNA consistent with having a great-grandfather who was half African.
 
Because Luke was listed in the 1851 census of the Redd household as “yellow” (bi-racial), she had already wondered if John Hardison Redd might be his father. The DNA test results listed several John Hardison Redd descendants (who had also taken DNA tests) as being related to her.
 
“On the funny side, Reiter said, “I had a close friend in high school who was a Redd, and I have many other friends in the Redd family. I now realize they are cousins.”
 
The clincher: From a scientific standpoint, Reiter’s DNA results are not considered proof-positive of a biological connection to John Hardison Redd. For that, a Y-chromosome test of a living male descendent of Luke Redd would be needed. That wasn’t possible in Tonya’s own family, but further study of Luke Redd’s life suggested another possibility for confirming her research.
 
After Luke moved with the Redd family from Spanish Fork to New Harmony, he was rumored to have fathered a child with Mary Ann Pace Goddard, given the name of George Clarence Goddard. A male descendant of Goddard’s took the Y-chromosome DNA test. It proved direct father-son biological connections from present-day Goddard descendants to Luke Redd and John Hardison Redd.
 
“At first, I thought of Luke as some sort of bad-boy,” Reiter said. “Then, I started seeing that there was no place for him in society.”
 
The families of slaves brought into the Salt Lake Valley formed a supportive community, and their children tended to marry within it, according to Reiter’s research.In Spanish Fork and New Harmony, there was no such community for Luke Redd. Nelle Hatch, a contemporary, related that he was “handsome, and as fair in complexion as any white man.”  

Flady Ainge

 



Timeline:

 
1820: North Carolina resident Elizabeth Hancock (22) is bequeathed two black slave girls, Venus (10) and Chaney (7), by Zebedee Hancock, her father

1824: Zebedee Hancock's will is probated. Venus and Chaney become Elizabeth’s legal property.

1826: Elizabeth marries John Hardison Redd and brings Venus and Chaney to the Redd household in Onslow County, N.C.

1828: Luke Redd is born to Venus.

1833: Marinda is born about this time, it is said Chaney is her mother.

1837: Amy is born to Chaney probably sometime this year.

1840: John Hardison Redd and his household have moved to a tobacco farm in Rutherford County, Tennessee. 

1843: Missionary John D. Lee baptizes John Hardison Redd, Elizabeth Hancock Redd, and the servants Venus and Chaney as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. No more children are born to Venus or Chaney after this date. Family tradition holds that J. H. Redd freed the family’s slaves soon after his baptism, but a search of Tennessee manumission records found no documentation of this.

1850: The John Hardison Redd family arrives in Utah with the James Pace Overland Trail Company.  The household includes servants Venus and Chaney, Luke (22), Marinda, Amy, and Sam Franklin.

1851: The U.S. Census is belatedly taken.  In the version held by the LDS Archives, the Redd servants are listed as "Slave Inhabitants."  Venus and Chaney are listed as "black."  The younger servants are listed as "yellow" indicating that they looked biracial.

1853: Elizabeth Hancock dies.

1856: John Harrison Redd marries Mary Lewis.

1857:  John Hardison Redd consecrates his property to Brigham Young.  Unlike two other Utah slaveholders, he does not deed over his servants as property.

1858: John Hardison Redd dies. When his property is divided, household servants Venus, Marinda and Luke receive a house, goods, and shares of land equal to those given to his five living, legitimate children and widow.

1872, December 27: A baby boy is born in New Harmony to Mary Ann Pace Goddard, who does not reside with her husband, William Pettibone Goddard. Rumors swirl that Luke Redd is the child’s father. The child is named George Clarence Goddard despite questions about his paternity.

2001: Utah resident Tonya Reiter makes an unexpected discovery while doing genealogical research on her ancestors: Her maternal great-grandmother, Flady Ainge, was listed in the 1870 census as “mulatto.” Surprised and mystified, she continues researching.

2014: Reiter takes a DNA test, hoping to verify information she has learned about her heritage. The test shows she carries a small amount of African DNA and is related to living descendants of J.H. Redd. Those results combined with the discovery of a letter reporting on the 1864 trial of her great great grandmother show that Luke Redd is her great great grandfather and strongly suggest a biological connection to J. H. Redd through Luke Redd. 

2015: A Y-chromosome DNA test is taken by a male descendant of George Clarence Goddard. A father-son lineage from John Hardison Redd to Luke Redd, to George Clarence Goddard, to Goddard’s present-day male descendants is proven.

2017: Reiter’s documented research about John Hardison Redd and the servants in his household is published in the Utah Historical Quarterly.
Source for information: Tonya Reiter’s article "Redd Slave Histories: Family, Race, and Sex in Pioneer Utah," Utah Historical Quarterly, vol. 85, No. 2., 2017
Yet cultural and religious attitudes made Luke Redd an outsider in Utah and left him without options for a marital partner. Eventually, he left the state for California.
 
Coming to terms: Word of Reiter’s discoveries about John Hardison Redd’s family have been circulating among Redd family members for years, especially those who have taken DNA tests linking them to the Ainge or Goddard families.
 
“For some, it has been a hard pill to swallow,” Reiter said. “The family looks up to John Hardison Redd as the initial Mormon — the one who joined the Church and brought them out to Utah. It has taken some convincing, but generally, everyone has been really welcoming and kind.”
 
Jan Garbett is director of research for the John Hardison Redd and Elizabeth Hancock Family Organization, and a descendant of its namesakes. Her familiarity with John Hardison Redd’s poetry and writings convinced her that he felt a deep longing for redemption:
 
I trembled with horror and loudly did cry,
“Lord, save a poor sinner, O save, or I die.”
He smiled when He saw me, and said to me, “live,”
“Thy sins, which are many, I freely forgive.”
— from a ballad written by John Hardison Redd for Mary Catherine Redd
 
“It seems like he was seeking an atonement for things that no one at that time could sort through,” Garbett said. “It was a complexity of their society — Southern tradition and American tradition — that had to undergo a wrenching war to determine how we would look at the issue of slavery. I think John Hardison Redd navigated that quite beautifully. He looked to Christ, and yearned for that. That’s exactly where we have to go with all of this.”
 

*In the past, various reasons were put forward to explain an historical ban on ordaining black male members to the priesthood of the LDS church. A 1978 revelation lifted that ban. “Today, the Church disavows the theories advanced in the past that black skin is a sign of divine disfavor or curse . . . Church leaders today unequivocally condemn all racism, past and present, in any form.” Race and the Priesthood published by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

To learn more:
Reiter’s article on the John Hardison Redd family’s black servants is found in the current issue of Utah Historical Quarterly. To read it, visit a library or contact the Utah State Historical Society for $7.00 for a single copy. Free online access to the article will be available at a future time, Reiter said.

A forthcoming book, Slaves in Zion, African American Servitude in Utah Territory, by LDS scholar Amy Tanner Thiriot will delve into the history of black Mormon pioneers, including those associated with the Redd Family. Thiriot will give a lecture based on her research on Feb. 15, 2018 at the LDS Church History Museum in Salt Lake City at 7 p.m.

 
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