13 July 2010

William Zeigler: the Man, His Vault, and His Woman Slave Mary (Tombstone Tuesday)

William Zeigler was born 18 November 1799 in South Carolina to Nicholas Zeigler. William came to Georgia in 1827 and spent his life farming. He amassed quite a fortune and died 11 June 1855 in Crawford County.

Records surrounding the death of William Zeigler are most fascinating. His obituary and will were transcribed and put online for easy access. I also found him in census records and newspaper items. The 1830 Crawford County, GA Federal census lists Wm. Zeigler with another male and 22-25 slaves. In 1840, Wm. had 66 slaves of which 26 were under the age of ten (thirteen boys and thirteen girls). 35 of the teenagers and adults were "employed in agriculture." I presume the other five were house servants. Mr. Zeigler was the only free white person counted in the household.

By 1850, William Zeigler had to be near or at the height of his fortune. He was listed as a planter from South Carolina living alone in Division 20 of Crawford County, GA. His real estate was valued at $40,000 to $60,000 (I can't quite make out the figure). William owned 90 slaves, ranging in age from 1 to 48 years.

After William's death in 1855, an upcoming executor's sale was noted in the Macon Weekly Telegraph (Georgia) regarding his lands. Most were in Crawford County, "containing in all about eight thousand acres." Zeigler had the lands divided into nine plantations: Home Place, the Simonton, Colbert, Boon, Dugger, Atkinson, Hatcher, Worsham, and Miller. He also owned land in Bibb County, and was part of The Macon Manufacturing Company co-op, producers of cotton and wool.

William Zeigler's obituary, transcribed by Cheryl Aultman and contributed to the USGenWeb Archives, was recorded in the Georgia Journal & Messanger on 27 May 1855:
Died at his residence in Crawford county, on the 11th instant, in the 56th year of his age, William Zeigler. He was born in Edgefield District, S.C., whence he removed to Crawford co. GA, in 1827, where he remained engaged in agriculture to the time of his death.

In his business habits he was very attentive and economical, whereby he was enabled in twenty-eight years to increase his capitol from ten thousand to three hundred thousand dollars; thus furnishing indubitable evidence that a farmer may become rich.

In his dealings he was strictly honest. In times of scarcity he would bid the rich and monied, who wished to buy provisions of him, to go to a distance and buy; that they had money and credit and could buy anywhere, and submit to the inconveniences and expense of transporting or carriage; that many of his neighbors had neither money nor credit, and that they must have corn and meat; thus he was a benefactor to the less fortunate. He never attached himself to any Church, but his faith was right. Over a year ago he remarked to the writer of this notice,
that he relied upon the mercy of his Maker, and hoped for salvation through the merit's of the Redeemer's blood.

For the information of distant relatives and friends, it is proper to remark, that his remains now rest in a temporary vault in Rose Hill Cemetery, in Macon, Ga., where they will remain until a permanent vault shall be completed according to his directions. He selected this place himself, while in life, from its peculiar fitness for the purpose intended. There let him rest in peace.

Since William Zeigler's will was also transcribed and donated to USGenWeb, we are able to read what the directions were for the vault in which his bones would repose: "My Body I direct my Executor hereafter to be appointed to dispose of in the following manner to wit -- To procure a patent Coffin (Fetche, Metalic or some other Patent Coffin of like nature). Let it be placed therein in a neat Christian Manner in a shroud of the neatest and best material. Let it there remain until the following preparations are made. Obtain a plat of ground in Rose Hill Cemetery Macon Ga -- sixteen feet square, as near the plat upon which is Erected the Monument to the late Oliver H. Prince & Lady as may be practicable. And erect thereon a vault of sufficient thickness to Guarantee its durability above the ground Plat, the ground having been first leveled -- to be supplied with a suitable Iron Door & proper & secure fastenings -- and arched roof made of the best brick and the best Workmanship. The whole of the said vault to be cemented with the best Hydraulic cement and the whole Plat to be surrounded with Iron paleings & proper Gates of Iron with security fastenings. The vault to be of sufficient size to admit the Coffin and persons to arrange it.

Then let my Coffin be placed therein with a proper Monument in front of my vault -- suitable to my condition in Life and the Expenses I direct to be paid by my Executor out of my Estate for which a sufficient sum is hereby appropriated and bequeathed to my Executor for the use & Purpose aforesaid."

Here is how that vault looks today, more than 150 years after it was first built.

The interesting finds in William Zeigler's last will and testament do not end there. The fourth request begins like this: "Is my desire, and so I direct, that the colored children of my Woman Slave Mary, be taken to a state where the laws thereof will tolerate their Manumission, or freedom & that they be there put under Competent and proper Teachers Keeping them together if possible where they may be properly educated according to the Means hereinafter set forth. That they be provided with good & suitable board and lodging having an Eye in this as with selection of Teachers, to Strict Morality, also that they be properly Clothed."

These children of Mary were later named -- Malinda Ann, William Henry, and Octavia. In addition to Mary and her three children being given their freedom and taken to an appropriate state, they each were bequeathed money. $10,000 for Mary, and $30,000 to each of her three children due upon their reaching the age of twenty-one. The interest accrued from the monies was to sustain them until they reached the majority age. Mary's $10,000 was to be put in a trust and she was to be given a sum of the interest paid annually. While the will initially stated the monies were to be given to the children directly, it was later amended to state they instead should be put into a trust and given at the discretion of the trustee. William's two brothers, Henry and Lewis, and his nephew John W. Dent were listed as the trustees.

While William Zeigler does not name these children as his own, it is likely they are. It clearly was his intent that they be educated and financially comfortable for life. But were they?

In 1860, Mary Zeigler (mulatto, age 30, b. VA) and her three children -- Malinda (mulatto, age 12, b. GA), William (mulatto, age 11, b. GA), Octavia (mulatto, age 9, b. GA) -- were living in Batavia, Clermont County, Ohio with a servant and a personal estate of $100,500. In 1870, all were still in Batavia, but the financial situation may not have been quite the same. Forty-one year old Mary then had a personal estate of $100, and there was no longer a servant. Twenty year old William is listed as a "hostler," or stableman. I do not know what happened to Mary Zeigler after 1870.

In 1880, Malinda and Octavia were back in Georgia. They were living at 86 Spring Street, Macon, Bibb County -- not far from where their supposed benefactor and probable father William Zeigler was buried. Octavia was a seamstress.

View Larger Map

Their brother William returned as well to Bibb county. I believe I found him in the census records with a wife, Jane, and later a son, William, Jr. I lost track of him after 1910 when he was working in the railroad yards.

There is evidence that Malinda and Octavia had children, but never married. Newspaper items also indicate they were at least small property owners in the Vineville District of Macon, Bibb County.

In June of 1869, the same year Malinda turned twenty-one, Mary brought her daughter to Macon and demanded what was rightfully theirs according to William Zeigler's will. A couple of months later a lawsuit had to be filed against the trustees of the time, since the original trustees renounced their positions. I do not know the outcome of the suit.

The institution of slavery is an atrocity that cannot be undone and should never be forgotten, yet learned from if possible. Out of the horrible situation arose some interesting relationships -- some forced upon unwilling parties, and some entered into willingly. The case of William Zeigler and his woman slave Mary is one such situation. While I certainly was not a witness to the thoughts and feelings of William or Mary, the relationship they shared seems somewhat like a business. But maybe William was in love, and Mary had no choice. Or maybe there was a mutual attraction. Even with the amount of research conducted, who am I to say?


  1. Great posting interesting to read and you put a lot of work into it thanks

  2. Thank you for posting this. William Zeigler was my several-great uncle, buried in his Rose Hill crypt also is his sister, Katherine Dent, my several-great grandmother. Her son, my great-great-grandfather was William Dent's executor. Mary and her children were indeed the only family William Zeigler ever had. William and Katherine and their families apparently shared an extended household in a comodious Crawford County residence. I believe Mary's voice comes through clearly in the first codicile to William Zeigler's will. It adds two simple provisions: 1) William's slave woman Mary could choose her own trustee and 2) should slaves be sold upon his death, they be sold as family groups (meaning all the other slaves, since she and her children were addressed individually in the will). Apparently, Mary Zeigler did return to Macon and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery's Oak Ridge section, unfortunately not with William in the Zeigler crypt. Again, thank you for sharing your work and keeping this story alive.

  3. It is important to remember that inter-racial marriages were illegal in Georgia until 1967.
    And William Zeigler instructed his nephew John Washington Dent to take Mary and the children to a state where they could gain manumission which was not available to them in Georgia. He took them and their inheritance to Ohio. The 1860 census shows them there with their money just before the War.
    The complete will and census records and more are on our family website which is: www.lanhamsource.com
    We welcome additional information.

    1. Not so sure they got the money. In 1858 Ewel Webb did provide funds for the children's educational needs. However, in 1862 Mary sued for money and the Superior Court in Crawford County ruled in her favor. The case subsequently went before the District Court of the Confederate States Fourth Southern District of Georgia. It reads The case was to be sent on appeal to the Supreme Court of the Confederate States of America.
      That did not happen because the legislature of the Confederate States never created a Supreme Court.

  4. I am a Black woman named Yoni Zeigler & I'm VERY interested in knowing more about my history email me @ yoni_zeigler@yahoo.com please

    1. Hi I am a black man with the Zeigler name my father is from Georgia

  5. The Zeigler plot at Rose Hill Cem was completely restored and cleaned in 2013 by devoted Dent Zeigler descendent. Come visit.

    1. Awesome! I don't live nearby anymore, but will try to visit the next time I'm in town.

  6. What a great post! When we were visiting, hanging out by the creek below the vault on 7/27/17, there was a young man cleaning out the area around the vault of branches and such, who warned us of yellow jackets nearby. Wonder who he was ;)

  7. My name is Yoni Zeigler. More than likely she may be my ancestor.


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