Free Persons of Color

The Neighborhood: The McKees in Goshen, Belmont, Ohio

Imae of Nearby town of St. Clairesville, the Belmont county seat
Nearby town of St. Clairesville, the Belmont county seat

“Who are the people in your neighborhood, in your neighborhood,

they’re in your neighborhood?

They’re the people that you meet when your walking down the street.

They’re the people that you meet each day!”


Many of us remember that catchy little theme song  composed and sung by the ever popular Mr. Rogers Aka Minister Fred McFeely Rogers of the PBS kids show “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”. He seemed to think that his neighbors where pretty important people ! I have come to realize as he did, that neighbors can indeed be pretty  important people in the grand scheme of things and with no exception in  family research and genetic genealogy .

This post is the first in a series of posts on the various neighborhoods of my ancestors. I have noticed over the years that many of surnames listed by my DNA matches confounded me until I noticed some of them in census record wards that my ancestors resided in . At that point I realized that there was one more reason for familiarizing myself with my ancestors neighbors,  and that is, because they just might be kin!  After all,  many if not most of us did not grow up in the neighborhoods of our ancestors and therefore may not know who their neighbors were and that they were, or might eventually become family. Another reason for revealing the neighborhood is to also draw attention to things that make it unique like the histories, families, topography . The things that provide the backdrop and context for our ancestors lives.

Although, I use Mr. Roger’s jingle to introduce this blog post, it  is not my intent to imply that living in Ohio during this time period was like living in Shangri-la, a cakewalk, or a “beautiful day in the neighborhood” everyday for my ancestors and others.   Certainly there were great challenges including “Black Laws ” that were intended to control and severely restrict the freedoms of my ancestors and discourage the settling of free persons of color in Ohio. In fact, these McKees would eventually leave Goshen Township and migrate to Wheeling by 1840, never to return. Though I am not sure if it was due to the black codes, to pursue opportunities , or both.

The McKees represent my paternal line. In a previous blog post ,  “To Be Free, Discovering FPOC in My Family Tree“,  I discuss how I  discovered that they were not enslaved in Louisiana, but were in fact  Free Persons of Color and that James McKee, my ancestor migrated to Louisiana around the time of the Civil War! The earliest records  show James family residing in a township called Goshen, nestled in the Appalachian foothills of Belmont County in Ohio.  Belmont county borders the Ohio river and is therefore the  first county that you would encounter if you were  traveling west on The Old National  Highway Route 40 back in the day or I-70 West these days. It’s about two hours west of Mr. Rogers hometown of Latrobe, Westmoreland, Pennsylania. 


Earliest Records

An  1850 Wheeling, VA mortality schedule listed John McKee’s place of birth as Ohio around 1794. In census records, the birth place of  the McKee men was usually listed as  Ohio.


Image of John McKee, Sr. in 1850 Wheeling, Ohio ,VAMortality Schedule
John McKee, Sr. in 1850 Wheeling, Ohio ,VA Mortality Schedule¹


Name John Mckee
Event Type Census
Event Year 1850
Event Place Virginia (now WV)
Gender Male
Age 56
Marital Status Married
Race Mulatto
Race (Original) M
Birth Year (Estimated) 1794
Birthplace Ohio
Death Date Jul 1849  Index of John McKee Mortality Entry


Surname: John Mulatto Mc Kee
Year: 1850
County: Ohio CO.
State: WV
Age: 56
Gender: (Male)
Month of Death: Jul
State of Birth: OH
ID#: 197_216022
Occupation: LABORER
Cause of Death: CHOLERA

Family Search Index of John McKee Mortality Entry


The earliest record of the McKee presence in Goshen Township that I  have actually found,  is a 1826  Personal Property Tax  record.


Image of John Mckee, Sr. in 1826 Goshen, Belmont , Ohio Tax list
John Mckee, Sr. in 1826 Goshen, Belmont , Ohio Tax list

I have not been able to find them in any  Belmont County records prior to  1826 even though  the death index for John McKee states Ohio as his birthplace .  Was this information correct? If so, where was John prior to 1826? Did he live in some other part of Ohio or another state? Or was John McKee and his family right there in Belmont County, enslaved or serving out an indenture. Yes , I said enslaved!

Although the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited slavery in the Ohio territory, slave owners where still allowed to bring their enslaved into the state, but were prohibited from buying and selling them. In his article,” Ohio Was not Home-Free For Runaway Slaves”, Greg Hand discusses the ambiguity of the word “free” and shares the following quote.

White settlers held black adults and children, some of whom were former slaves, to involuntary labor north of the Ohio River as indentured servants. Other slaves brought across the river may have been coerced to remain under the control of their owners under threat of being sent back to a slave state. Some slaves may have voluntarily acquiesced in this arrangement by concluding that a life of labor in a free state was preferable to life as a slave south of the river, even though there may have been little actual difference in their condition. Nominally, free blacks may have found some benefit in living under the protection of a white family, even if this arrangement diminished their actual freedom.

I have seen evidence of this in 1820 Federal Census Records for eastern Ohio. has indexed these records such that it appears that there may be “extra” individuals in some  households. You will see them counted under the category  “All Other Persons Except Indians not Taxed” . I have tried to determine if these are family members being counted twice or if these are people in addition to the family members, like the ones in the previously mentioned quote. This begs the questions, “Could my ancestors have been enslaved or indentured and recorded as tic marks in one of these households?” and “Could this explain why I am having a hard time finding them in census records prior to the 1830 Federal Census?“.

The following  record is one example of many records that I have found throughout Belmont, Harrison, and Jefferson counties.


Name: Joseph Carter
Home in 1820 (City, County, State): Goshen, Belmont, Ohio
Enumeration Date: August 7, 1820
Free White Persons – Males – Under 10: 4
Free White Persons – Males – 26 thru 44: 1
Free White Persons – Females – Under 10: 1
Free White Persons – Females – 26 thru 44: 1
Number of Persons – Engaged in Agriculture: 1
All Other Persons Except Indians not Taxed: 7
Free White Persons – Under 16: 5
Free White Persons – Over 25: 2
Total Free White Persons: 7
Total All Persons – White, Slaves, Colored, Other: 14 Index of  Joseph Carter in 1820 Census with “Extra” persons.5

Please note that I have not established a connection between my McKee or Carter ancestors and the Joseph Carter listed in the index record above.

The earliest census record that I have been able to find of the McKees is that of 1830  township of Goshen  including the town of Belmont which had approximately 1993 residents of which approximately 62 where free persons of color (FPOC).

1830 Federal Census pages with John McKee, Sr ³


Image of John Mckee in 1830 Census Goshen, Belmont, Ohio
John Mckee, FPOC, in 1830 Census Goshen, Belmont, Ohio, page 1
Image of 1830 Census Tick Marks for John Mckee, Isaac Edwards, Miner Edwards, page 2
1830 Census Tick Marks for John Mckee, Isaac Edwards, Miner Edwards, FPOC page 2


Free Persons of Color in Goshen Township

I have listed these heads of house holds in the chart below is because so little has been recorded about  these free persons of color. They have been largely ignored by local and national historians so that history books and internet searches might yield very little information on the origins and lives of these individuals. There were however certain FPOC families that resided in Belmont County that have been identified and researched more exhaustively. They include surnames like Goins, Payne, Lett, Bett, Myers, Harper, Lucas, Randolph and others. There were also other FPOC families that I have not mentioned, who settled throughout Belmont, Harrison, Jefferson and other eastern Ohio Counties. In the 1850 census they mostly appeared to be from Ohio, Virginia, Maryland,  North and South Carolina.


 Free Persons of Color in Goshen Township, Belmont County, Ohio 1820 Census


Head of Household  Family Size
Minor Edwards 4
 Isaac Edwards  6
 Stephen McGee  9


 Free Persons of Color in Goshen Township, Belmont County, Ohio 1830 Census

Head of Household  Family Size
Minor Edwards 3
 Isaac Edwards  13
 Stephen McGee  7
 Charles Singer  10
John Wood 4
 Free Person (John Loyd, white HH)  1
 Joseph Harper 5
 John McKee 8
 David Peterson  5
 Enos Brady  3
 David Bruce  3


When I google my own McKees the only information I get are mostly my own queries ,blog posts, and a few census and vital record links.  There is evidence among my DNA matches which supports  research  that McKee women in collateral lines married into  the Harper and possibly the Payne families. Other names that frequent my paternal autosomal DNA matches are  Carter, Gardner, Miller, Baker, Barr, Brown, Norman, Bruce, Murphy, and others. I am still researching whether these are just coincidences or real connections.

Though I have borrowed the label “Afrilachian” to describe these people, their actual ethnicity or how they labeled themselves is not always clear . I will say that while the McKees were mostly labeled Mulatto in census records in Ohio and Virginia, they were mostly labeled “Negro” in Wheeling, Virginia legal records.

There is  a  Record of blacks and mulattoes, 1809-1854, for Belmont county.  I have looked at this resource over the years and have never been able to find any entries with surname McKee.  It could have been because there were pages  that were missing but also in the book “The Center of a Great Empire: The Ohio Country in the Early American Republic4it is mentioned that the Court of Common Pleas in Belmont County seldom enforced the  five-hundred-dollar  surety bond requirement and sometimes formally suspended payment and county registration contingent upon good behavior and self support. This may explain why many free persons including the McKees were not listed. Many of the formally enslaved had freedom papers and may have side stepped registration and payment of the bond. I am still researching the origins of my McKee ancestors.

One thing about neighborhoods is that they are ever evolving. Goshen Township was no exception. Over time residents moved in and out.  Some of the free persons that were found there in 1826 we still see in the 1830 census like the families of the  Edwards men, John Wood, Stephen McGee,  David Bruce, and John McKee. Some like Jesse Paine,  a neighbor had moved on. 

My great great grandfather James McKee was born in this community in 1833. His relative, possibly father, Francis (Frank) McKee was married here to Leticia Carter in 1833. Another relative Elizabeth McKee married John Harper in 1830.  Most of these families would eventually move on, even if it were to another township within the county. The McKees would eventually move on to Wheeling, Virginia and then to Wisconsin, Michigan and Louisiana by 1860s and 1870s.

There were  many other notable families in Goshen Township including many Quakers. I plan to write about them in a future post.



¹”United States Census (Mortality Schedule), 1850,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 4 August 2017), John Mckee, now in West Virginia, All counties, Virginia, United States; citing line 14, NARA microfilm publication T655 (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.); FHL microfilm 944,493.

²”Ohio Tax Records, 1800-1850,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 29 July 2017), John Mckey, 1826; citing various county courthouse offices, Goshen Township, Belmont, Ohio, p. 42, Tax records indexed by Ohio Genealogy Society; FHL microfilm 514,148.

³”United States Census, 1830,” database with images, FamilySearch( : 19 August 2017), John Mc Kee, Goshen, Belmont, Ohio, United States; citing 269, NARA microfilm publication M19, (Washington D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.), roll 127; FHL microfilm 337,938.

4Browne, R. B. (2006), The Center of a Great Empire: The Ohio Country in the Early Republic. The Journal of American Culture, 29: 99. doi:10.1111/j.1542-734X.2006.00311.x 1820 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2010. Images reproduced by FamilySearch.

Original data: Fourth Census of the United States, 1820. (NARA microfilm publication M33, 142 rolls). Records of the Bureau of the Census, Record Group 29. National Archives, Washington, D.C.


This database details those persons enumerated in the 1820 United States Federal Census, the Fourth Census of the United States. In addition, the names of those listed on the population schedule are linked to the actual images of the 1820 Federal Census. Enumerators of the 1820 census were asked to include the following categories in the census: name of head of household, number of free white males and females, number of other free persons except Indians, number of slaves, town or district and county of


  1. Kristin

    Interesting stuff I did not know about life in Ohio during that time. When I was in Mississippi, I knew a Menonite family from Goshen.

  2. Connie Mason

    Great information. My family is from the Barnesville area in Belmont County and Wheeling, WVa. Some names are, Goings, Lynn, Newsome, Briggs, Bailey, Singer, McGee, Burriss, Cunningham.

    1. Karen Galloway Post author

      Hi Connie,
      Barnsville, very close to Goshen. Perhaps the nearest town. Thanks for stopping by.

  3. Damianne Fischer

    So happy I stumbled across this article. I am researching my family roots that at one point lived in Belmont county. I am almost certain that Charles Singer as listed in the census info for Goshen Twp. is my 4 times great grand father showing up as a free person of color. I am also related to the Lett, Lucas, Newsom, Goins, Gibson, Mayle (Male) and Tabler families. My daughter and I were recently in Belmont county researching our family. Thank you for this information.

    1. Karen Galloway Post author

      Hi Damianne, congratulations on your ancestral discoveries! Those surnames are have certainly become familiar to me. Apologies for the delay in responding. Do you know where they were prior to arriving in Belmont county? I believe I also have a Gibson ancestor that i am still researching.

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