The Question of Judie’s Father

I first read about Maynard Jackson in 1973 when he became the first Black mayor of a major Southern US city. As mayor of Atlanta, he and a young Senator from Delaware were my political heroes of the day. It was not until 30 years later that I learned that Mayor Jackson (1938-2003) and I were fourth cousins. I made this discovery when I read a book by Gary Pomerantz titled Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn: The Saga of Two Families and the Making of Atlanta. In the book, he chronicled the lives of two men who were instrumental in making the city of Atlanta the great city that it is today.

In Where Peachtree Meets Sweet Auburn, Pomerantz traces five generations of two of Atlanta’s defining political family dynasties — the Allens, descending from slave owners, and the Dobbses, descending from slaves. These families produced the two most influential mayors of the modern South: Ivan Allen Jr. and Maynard Jackson Jr. According to this post there are plans to make a documentary from the book that was first published 25 years ago.

The slaves that Mayor Jackson and his grandfather, John Wesley Dobbs, a mid-20th century civil rights leader, are descendants of, were the human property of my ancestors who were cotton planters in Cobb County, Georgia.

Although Mr. Pomerantz does not say it directly, he implies that a Cobb county farmer, Josiah Dobbs, fathered a daughter by one of his slaves. When Josiah died in 1851, it is believed that his 13 slaves went to his brother, David Dobbs.

According to the Wikipedia article for John Wesley Dobbs, the grandfather of Maynard Jackson, John’s maternal grandfather was a white slave-owner who owned his maternal grandmother. His paternal great-grandfather was a white slave-owner who owned his paternal grandmother’s great-grandmother.

According to Mr. Pomerantz, John’s maternal grandfather was Dr. John McAfee, and his paternal great-grandfather was Josiah Dobbs.

Pomerantz writes: These farmers were well acquainted with one another: the Roberts brothers (Willis and Thomas), the McAfees (the doctor and his brother Bob), and the Dobbs brothers (Asa, David, and Josiah) were among the wealthier men in these parts; there had been several marriages between their families. The Dobbs brothers had settled in Cobb more than a decade before, moving from their native Elbert County.

Josiah’s brother, David Dobbs, was my mother’s great-great-grandfather. Josiah’s daughter was Judie Dobbs, and it is estimated that she was born in the 1830s as when she died in 1925, she was well into her 90s.

In her later years, Judie Dobbs would tell her descendants that she watched Sherman’s soldiers arrive in Cobb County.

Mr. Pomerantz quotes from a New York Tribune Article written in the summer of 1864. It tells of the plight of Marietta’s wealthy landowners and how they left behind their homes and slaves as they fled from Sherman’s Army as it advanced from Tennessee into the heart of Georgia.:

It must have cost the citizens many a pang to tear themselves away from the grateful shade and quiet comfort of the luxurious homes of Marietta, to wander in the Saharas of Southern Georgia at the present hot and dusty season,” the correspondent for The New York Tribune, traveling with Sherman’s forces, wrote on July 16, 1864. “The town is a perfect grotto of shade. The best estates are owned by Ed. Denmead, John H. Glover… Dix Fletcher, the Rev. John Hunt, Col. David Dobbs, one of the oldest citizens….

{On a side-note: It is believed that the elderly David Dobbs remained in Marietta during the occupation by Sherman’s Army and that he witnessed firsthand the burning of Georgia Military Institute when the Union Army moved out for Atlanta; while his son D.J. Dobbs and family fled to South Carolina.}

Pomerantz says this about the man who later married Judie Dobbs and who fathered their son, Wil, who became the father of John Wesley Dobbs: “Though it is not certain where the slave Wesley Dobbs spent the war years, most likely he was owned by David Dobbs, brother of the late Josiah and Asa. The number of slaves owned by David Dobbs had escalated to sixty-two in 1860, up from forty-one a decade earlier.

What Judie’s descendants remember most about her was that she looked White.

“She was as white as people get to be but she was considered black,” one great-granddaughter recalled. Another would remember only a small and fragile elderly woman, “that looked like Whistler’s Mother.”

Josiah Dobbs was married to Elizabeth Prothro. Her niece was my great, great-grandmother, Martha Josephine Prothro. Aunt Elizabeth was most likely responsible for introducing Martha, who lived near Aiken in South Carolina, to her future husband, David Judson Dobbs, the son of Elizabeth’s brother-in-law David.

According to Pomerantz, Elizabeth was fully aware that the girl, Judie, was her husband’s daughter

As a young girl, Judie said, she had cared for her father’s invalid wife. She had served her meals and combed her hair. The wife had been less than appreciative, for she had known of the girl’s origins and was bitterly resentful. Occasionally she beat or scratched the slave girl; other times she cursed her for her mere existence. Later, Judie hoped to marry a light-skinned slave for whom she had an amorous eye, but was paired instead with a dark, African-looking man, so that there would be no mistaking her children for anything other than what they were, slaves. With Josiah Dobbs’s field hand, Wesley, she would have fourteen children, the first, a son Will, in 1847. By the time their last child, Jesse, was born in 1874, Judie Dobbs was about fifty. Neither Judie nor Wil was listed among Josiah Dobbs’s slaves in his 1851 inventory; the probability is that they were living on a nearby plantation in Cobb County.

The 1860 slave schedule for Cobb County, Georgia, does show in David Dobb’s inventory of slaves, a mulatto female.

According to Ancestry.com, I have 603 “close” DNA matches. These would be fourth cousins or closer. Then for “distant” DNA matches, there are 13,389. Only a small subset of those matches have sufficient data to allow Ancestry.com to determine who our common ancestor is. By grouping those with common ancestors by surname. I was able to get an estimate of how many cousins with DNA matches have known common ancestors. That number is 322.

While a few surnames had only less than ten matches, most were in the range of 10 to 30 matches. I find it most interesting that out of that total of 322, nearly 40% were on my maternal grandfather’s side of the family. I count 55 cousins who claim John McMullan as our common ancestor and 66 cousins for whom John Dobbs (or for those who adhere to an alternate pedigree, Fortune Dobbs) as our common ancestor.

John Dobbs was the father of Josiah Dobbs and the grandfather of the Cobb county Dobbs brothers Josiah, David, and Asa.

So far, I’ve not seen any matches that claim to be descendants of Josiah Dobbs. Who knows, they may be one of those 13,000+ “un-documented” cousins.

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