Nathaniel Patten of Augusta, Georgia, and His Slave Family

Originally published in The Genealogist 29, no. 2 (Fall 2015). By Paul K. Graham. Courtesy of The American Society of Genealogists.

Historical records abound with evidence of white men who fathered children by slaves. The nature of these liaisons has long been investigated and debated by historians. Despite legal sanctions and social pressure, a small subset took the form of monogamy. An even smaller group of these long-term monogamous relationships between slaves and slave owners has been carefully documented.1 Nathaniel Patten and Louisa Colbert of Augusta, Georgia, were one such couple.

Evidence strongly suggests that Nathaniel Patten owned Louisa Colbert. If he did not, she was owned by another white person but lived with Nathaniel. Together they had at least seven children (and possibly ten). They were barred from marriage under a Georgia law dating from 1750.2 Nathaniel’s only known long-term relationship was with Louisa; he never married nor lived with a white woman. Like other relationships of this type, the evidence does contain inconsistencies, but available documents leave little doubt about the situation.

Post-Civil War documents establish the relationships among the members of Nathaniel’s family. In 1870, the Patten family was enumerated together in Militia District 123, Richmond County.3 The household included Nathaniel Patten (white farmer from Ireland), Louisa (black from Georgia), and their mulatto children, and appears as follows:

Nathaniel 29 Mulatto Georgia    
Henrietta 21 Mulatto Georgia    
Nathaniel 67 White Ireland Yes Yes
Louisa 50 Black Georgia Yes Yes
Harriett 18 Mulatto Georgia Yes  
Gertrude 16 Mulatto Georgia Yes  
Arabella 9 Mulatto Georgia Yes  
Jenny 5 Mulatto Georgia    
Louisa 1 m. Mulatto Georgia    

The notation that Harriett, Gertrude, and Arabella had a father of foreign birth is strong evidence that the three girls were Nathaniel’s daughters. The younger Nathaniel was not listed in the same way, but his 1880 census enumeration identifies his father as a native of Ireland.4 The paternity of Jenny and Louisa is unclear.

Nathaniel left no estate at his death, but he provided support to his family through a trust. On 10 May 1868, he transferred to Alexander Philip, trustee, for “the love and affection which he [Nathaniel] has and bears towards Louisa Colbert,” thirty acres of land on the Murray Mill Road three miles south of Augusta.5 In addition to the land, the transfer also included household and kitchen furniture, which was listed specifically. The purpose of the trust was to provide “for the joint use and benefit of the said Nathaniel and Louisa and their said children.” At the death of Nathaniel and Louisa, the property was to be divided equally between Nathaniel, Harriet, Gertrude, and Isabella—“children of the said Louisa Colbert.” Jenny’s omission leaves doubt about her paternity.

After Nathaniel’s death in 1877, his surviving children remained on the property for seven years before selling. On 29 August 1884, Nathaniel Patten, Isabella Shaw, and Harriet Patten sold the “Patten Place” for $1,025.6 The document establishes some key facts about the family. It states that Gertrude Patten had died unmarried and without issue, but does not give the date of death. It also clarifies Nathaniel’s daughter’s names. “Arabella” from the 1870 census was actually Isabella. The deed identifies her as “Isabella Shaw formerly Isabella Patten and some time written by mistake Arabella.” Harriet’s name was written “sometime by mistake Henrietta Patten.”

Only one of Nathaniel’s children survived past 1919, when Georgia mandated birth and death registrations. Isabella, as “Bell Shaw,” died on 7 May 1925 at her house at 1473 Jones Street in Augusta.7 Her daughter Anna served as the informant, identifying Bell’s father as “Nathan Pattent” who was born in Ireland.

Pre-Civil War census schedules show that Nathaniel’s slave family formed around 1840. The population schedules of 1850 and 1860 demonstrate that Nathaniel did not live with a white family.8 The slave schedules include Nathaniel’s family and, combined with the 1870 population schedule, they show consistent growth for more than twenty years.

Louisa 22 (b. ca. 1828) 32 (b. ca. 1828) 50 (b. ca. 1820)
Nathaniel 9 (b. ca. 1841) 18 (b. ca. 1842) 29 (b. ca. 1841)
[Female] 1 (b. ca. 1849) 10 (b. ca. 1850) [d. 1862]12
Harriett   8 (b. ca. 1852) 18 (b. ca. 1852)
Gertrude   6 (b. ca. 1854) 16 (b. ca. 1854)
[Female]   5 (b. ca. 1855)  
[Female]   1 (b. ca. 1859)  
Isabella     9 (b. ca. 1861)
Jenny     5 (b. ca. 1865)
[Infant]     [d. 1867]13
Louisa     1 m. (b. 1870)

Slave schedules do not prove ownership; they list people where they were found to be employed, “the principal object being to get the number of slaves, and not that of masters or owners.”14 For ownership, tax digests provide more compelling evidence, confirming that Nathaniel did own slaves from 1842 to 1864 (the Civil War ending in 1865).15 The number of slaves in his tax digests entries does not consistently track with the family’s numbers. However, inconsistencies in the tax registration process and changes in Georgia tax law could explain the differences.


1     NATHANIEL1 PATTEN, born in County Tyrone, Ireland, about 1813,16 died in Augusta, Georgia, on 1 February 1877 and was buried the next day in the city cemetery, now known as Magnolia Cemetery.17 He never legally married. The mother of his children, LOUISA COLBERT, born in Georgia about 1820, survived him and was buried in the city cemetery on 9 August 1877.18

On 28 April 1834, at age twenty-one, Nathaniel left Londonderry, Ireland, on the ship Great Britain bound for New York.19 He arrived in America one month later on 28 May 1834.20 On the passenger manifest, he was listed as a “grocer,” an occupation he did not continue in Georgia. Another Patten—forty-three-year-old James—also sailed on the Great Britain. He was not recorded with Nathaniel, and his relationship is not known.21

Nathaniel arrived in Augusta, Georgia, by the tax assessment of 1837.22 By 1841, when Augusta’s first city directory was published, he had found employment at the Augusta Chronicle newspaper as a clerk and joined the volunteer Augusta Fire Company.23

Nathaniel applied for citizenship on 26 January 1841, giving his age (27), place of birth (Tirone [sic: Tyrone], Ireland), and arrival details (20 May 1834 [sic], New York, from Londonderry).24 The process took one year, and on 27 January 1842, Nathaniel Patten became a citizen of the United States.25 The date he provided for his arrival in the country was off by eight days, but was close enough to allow his passenger manifest to be identified.

Little is known about Nathaniel’s daily life. He worked as a clerk at least until 1850,26 but after moving to the farm south of Augusta he took up farming.27 Nathaniel’s first recorded land purchase came on 15 April 1850.28 It was a town lot located on Telfair Street between Cumming and Kollock. However, tax records show that he had taken ownership of a lot three years earlier.29 No deed has been found to explain his first purchase. He purchased an adjoining lot on 7 June 1853,30 and six months after that, on 9 January 1854, he bought another nearby lot.31

Nathaniel had already moved his family to the farm south of Augusta by 16 May 1857, when he purchased the 32 acres for $1,500.32 Available evidence offers no clue to the motive for his move out of town. The claim that social pressure contributed would be reasonable but only conjecture. In 1862, he sold 2.88 acres out of the tract for $566.33

As discussed, Nathaniel conveyed his farm in trust in May 1868. The same year he sold the last of his Augusta town property for $1,250.34 The two events that spring strongly suggest that he was retiring from regular work and setting up a comfortable life for himself and Louisa during their remaining years. For the next nine years, the Patten family lived on the farm together.

Nathaniel’s obituary, dated 3 February 1877, describes him as “an old and well-known citizen” who “has been living a quiet and retired life.” It shows that he was something of a political instigator; before the Civil War he had published the secret books of the local Know Nothing Party.35 Louisa followed Nathaniel six months later and was buried in the city cemetery on 9 August 1877.36

Known children of Nathaniel1 and Louisa (Colbert) Patten:

i     NATHANIEL/NAT2 PATTEN, b. ca. 1841, d. 14 Oct. 1906, bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery 16 Oct. 1906;37 m. (1) HENRIETTA —,38 bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery 17 Sept. 1880,39 (2) AMY —.40

Not long after he and his sisters sold their father’s land, Nathaniel opened a saloon. The establishment brought him some notoriety in the local press. On Saturday night, 30 Oct. 1887, police raided the place, catching as many as seventy-five people engaged in illegal gambling.41 Nat’s place, “where the colored gentry drop their money,” was in the news again fourteen months later when a fight between two patrons escalated to a stabbing.42

Nathan apparently married “Amy,” but evidence of her identity is limited. By 1902, they had been separated two years, and Amy lived in Savannah. On 9 Sept. 1902, Amy came to their home in Augusta drunk, a fight ensued, and she stabbed Nat in the hand with a small pocketknife.43 He was taken to the police barracks with severe bleeding. Amy was taken to jail.

Nathaniel met a tragic fate on 14 Oct. 1906.44 He and a friend, George Hammond, took a heavily-loaded wagon to a religious meeting south of Augusta. On the way, they stopped repeatedly for drinks. To lighten the load at a steep hill, George went ahead with another man. After George did not hear his friend, he retraced his steps. There, George found Nathaniel lying under the wagon, unconscious, having fallen from his seat and been run over. The newspaper reported that a large blood vessel had ruptured, but the sexton’s record states that it was his liver that was crushed.45 The Augusta Chronicle named the victim as “Dan Patton,” but the accident’s correlation with the burial record for Nat Patton clarifies his identity. No man named Dan Patton lived in or near Augusta during those years.

ii     UNKNOWN FEMALE, b. ca. 1849, bur. Magnolia Cemetery 21 July 1862, property of “N. Pattan.”46

iii     HARRIETT PATTEN, b. ca. 1852, d. Augusta 1 Oct. 1895, bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery.47 Harriett had a hearing problem significant enough to be con-sidered a disability.48 She never married.

iv     GERTRUDE PATTEN, b. ca. 1854,49 d. bef. 29 Aug. 1884,50 likely before the 1880 U.S. census enumeration. She does not appear in Augusta burial records, suggesting that she was buried outside the city.

v     UNKNOWN FEMALE, b. ca. 1855, appears unnamed on the 1860 slave schedule.51

vi     UNKNOWN FEMALE, b. ca. 1859, appears unnamed on the 1860 slave schedule.52

vii     ISABELLA PATTEN, b. ca. 1861, d. 1473 Jones St., Augusta, 8 May 1925,53 bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery;54 m. (1) ca. 1877 JAMES SHAW,55 divorced Nov. 1901,56 d. University Hospital, Augusta, 21 Dec. 1935;57 m. (2) ca. 1902 ROBERT BENEFIELD,58 who d. Augusta 20 Sept. 1919.59

Children of James and Isabella2 (Patten) Shaw:

1   Anna Shaw, b. ca. 1878, d. 9 Feb. 1959,60 bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery;61 m. (1) — Finch,62 (2) Richmond Co. 17 Jan. 1924 Otis Johnson.63 Her only son, Robert Bell Finch, d. 9 March 1908 at age 4, and bur. Cedar Grove Cemetery.64

2   James H. Shaw, b. 20 Aug. 1879, d. Atlanta, Fulton Co., Ga., 7 Aug. 1930,65 bur. Oakland Cemetery;66 m. Fulton Co. Lavata Frances Kirk,67 b. Ala. 11 March 1894, d. Brotman Medical Center, Culver City, Calif., 17 Feb. 1996, bur. Oakland Cemetery, dau. of Frank and Ula (Snipes) Kirk.68 Lavata, later, m. Allen Page Lightner, d. Tuskegee, Macon Co., Ala., 30 Sept. 1964, bur. Oakland Cemetery, son of Frank and Daffney (Thompson) Lightner.69 All known living descendants of Nathaniel Patten descend from James.

Possible children of Nathaniel and Louisa (Colbert) Patten:

viii     JENNY PATTEN, b. ca. 1865, appears only on the 1870 census.70

ix     UNKNOWN CHILD, stillborn, bur. Magnolia Cemetery 13 Aug. 1867, child of “Louisa Patton.”71

x     LOUISA PATTEN, b. May 1870, appears only on the 1870 census.72

Paul K. Graham, AG, CG, Genealogist at AncestryProGenealogists, a division of Ancestry, may be contacted at P.O. Box 3223, Salt Lake City, UT 84110-3223; or at

1. Examples published in the last twenty-five years include Robert Stafford and Elizabeth Bernardey of Cumberland Island, Ga.; Dr. Robert Marion Gourdin and Daphne Singleton of Georgetown District, S.C.; and William H. Harleston and Kate Wilson of Charleston, S.C. See the following monographs. Mary R. Bullard, Robert Stafford of Cumberland Island: Growth of a Planter (Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1986); John Raymond Gourdin, Gourdin: The History and Genealogy of a French-African-American Family from Georgetown County, South Carolina, 1830–1994 (Baltimore: Gateway Press, 1995); Edward Ball, The Sweet Hell Inside: A Family History (New York: William Morrow, 2001).

2. Allen D. Candler, The Colonial Records of the State of Georgia, Vol. I (Atlanta: Franklin Printing and Publishing Co., 1904), 59-60.

3. 1870 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M. [Georgia Militia], Richmond Co., Ga., p. 421, lines 10–18.

4. 1880 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 104, p. 524A, line 44.

5. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, VV (2V):635-37.

6. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, QQQ (3Q):249-52.

7. Bell Shaw, Georgia death certificate no. 15420 (1925).

8. 1850 U.S. Census, Division 73, Richmond Co., Ga., p. 896, line 7; 1860 U.S. Census, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 993, line 7.

9. 1850 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., fol. 903, col. 2, lines 12–15.

10. 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 291, col. 1, lines 12–18.

11. 1870 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 421, lines 10–18.

12. Magnolia Cemetery (Augusta, Ga.), Interments, A:356.

13. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, B:372.

14. United States Census Bureau, Measuring America: The Decennial Census from 1790 to 2000 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Commerce, Economics and Statistics Administration, U.S. Census Bureau, 2002), 11-12.

15. Richmond Co., Ga., 1842 Tax Digest, Nathl. Patten entry; Richmond Co., Ga., 1864 Tax Digest, 123rd District, Nathaniel Patton entry.

16. Richmond Co., Ga., Superior Court Minutes, 15:293.

17. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, B:359.

18. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, B:372. Her age was given as 50 in 1870.

19. Nat. Patten entry, Passenger Manifest, Ship Great Britain, 29 May 1834, Passenger Lists of Vessels Arriving at New York, New York, 1820–1897, National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) microfilm publication M237, roll 23.

20. “Arrived This Forenoon,” New York Evening Post, 28 May 1834, p. 3, col. 3.

21. Surviving church records of County Tyrone do not extend to the years around Nathaniel’s birth. He may have come from the western end of the county, where Patten/Patton clusters appear in Tithe Applotment Books (1823–1837) and Griffith’s Valuation (1848–1864). However, Patten and Patton families did live in other parts of the county and cannot be ruled out.

22. Richmond Co., Ga., 1837 Tax Digest, entry for W. T. Thompson for Nathl. Patton.

23. Augusta Directory and City Advertiser for 1841 (Augusta, 1841), 32-33.

24. Richmond Co., Ga., Superior Court Minutes, 15:293.

25. Richmond Co., Ga., Superior Court Minutes, 16:130-31.

26. 1850 U.S. Census, Division 73, Richmond Co., Ga., p. 896, line 7.

27. 1860 U.S. Census, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 993, line 7.

28. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, GG (2G):119.

29. Richmond Co., Ga., 1847 Tax Digest, entry for Nathaniel Patton.

30. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, HH (2H):296-97.

31. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, JJ (2J):39-40.

32. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, MM (2M):405.

33. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, QQ (2Q):350-51.

34. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, WW (2W):308.

35. “Death of an Old Citizen,” Augusta Chronicle and Sentinel, 3 Feb. 1877, p. 4, col. 1. The “secret books” have not been identified.

36. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, B:372.

37. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, D:178.

38. 1880 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 104, p. 524A, lines 44-45.

39. Cedar Grove Cemetery (Augusta, Ga.), Interments, C: entry for Mrs. Henrietta Patton.

40. “She Stabbed Her Husband,” Augusta Chronicle, 10 Sept. 1902, p. 8, col. 5.

41. “Pulling a Blind Tiger,” Augusta Chronicle, 30 Oct. 1887, p. 8, col. 3.

42. “On the Books,” Augusta Chronicle, 8 Feb. 1889, p. 5, col. 2.

43. “She Stabbed Her Husband,” Augusta Chronicle, 10 Sept. 1902, p. 8, col. 5.

44. “Dan Patten Killed by Wagon Wheels,” Augusta Chronicle, 15 Oct. 1906, p. 2, col. 5.

45. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, D:178.

46. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, A:356.

47. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, D:23.

48. 1880 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 104, p. 524A, line 50.

49. 1870 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 421, line 15.

50. Richmond Co., Ga., Deeds, QQQ (3Q):249-52.

51. 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 291, line 17.

52. 1860 U.S. Census, Slave Schedule, District 124 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 291, line 18.

53. Bell Shaw, Georgia death certificate no. 15420 (1925).

54. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, E:161.

55. 1880 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 104, p. 524A, line 47.

56. “The Divorce Docket,” Augusta Chronicle, 3 Nov. 1901, p. 4, col. 5.

57. James Shaw, Georgia death certificate no. 32461 (1935).

58. 1910 U.S. Census, Augusta, Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 62, sheet 6B, line 61.

59. Robert Benefield, Georgia death certificate no. 13984 (1919). For Robert’s family history, see Paul K. Graham, “A Love Story Proved: The Life and Family of Laura Lavinia (Kelly) Combs of Atlanta and Augusta, Georgia,” National Genealogical Society Quarterly 101, no. 4 (December 2013): 245-266.

60. Annie Shaw Finch, Georgia death certificate no. 4663 (1959).

61. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, G:4.

62. 1910 U.S. Census, Augusta, Richmond Co., Ga., E.D. 62, sheet 6B, line 62.

63. Richmond Co., Ga., Marriages, QQ:569.

64. Cedar Grove Cemetery Interments, D:195.

65. James H. Shaw, Georgia death certificate no. 21573 (1930).

66. Gravestone, Oakland Cemetery, Atlanta, Fulton Co., Ga.

67. Fulton Co., Ga., Marriage Index, S–Z, entry for James H. Shaw and Lavata F. Kirk.

68. Lavata Shaw Lightner, California death certificate no. 071192 (1996).

69. Allen P. Lightner, Alabama death certificate no. 21936 (1964).

70. 1870 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 421, line 17.

71. Magnolia Cemetery Interments, B:372.

72. 1870 U.S. Census, District 123 G.M., Richmond Co., Ga., p. 421, line 18.