By Ashley Benkarski
WASHINGTON CO., TN — The Ford family legacy is one for the history books, and that’s not hyperbole.
Larkin Ford labored as a slave on the farm owned by Loyd Ford Sr., a Revolutionary War veteran, and when the latter passed away he left his 112-acre property to the former in his will when he died in 1843 at age 96.
“Whether or not they were his offspring (eventually a major court issue) Ford’s slaves were closer to him than were his seven legitimate sons—none of whom, as adults, chose to remain on the family farm and help their father,” wrote historian Anne Klabenow in “Loyd Ford Sr.: A White Man and His ‘Black Children’s’ Inheritance,” which was part of a study titled 200 Years in 200 Stories: A Tennessee Bicentennial Collection.
Enter Eric Ford and Rose Tate. Tate contacted Eric, saying the two had matched DNA on ancestry.com, “proof positive Loyd [Sr.] indeed fathered children with his slaves … We’re not just related by name and association but also by blood,” he said.
Tennessee Supreme Court Justice Nathan Green handed down an opinion that was uncommon in the antebellum South:
“A slave is not in the condition of a horse or an ox…he is made in the image of the Creator. He has mental capabilities, and an immortal principle in his nature, that constitute him equal to his owner but for the accidental position in which fortune has placed him…the laws under which he is held as a slave have not and cannot extinguish his highborn nature nor deprive him of many rights which are inherent in man.”
The family is making plans to reunite June 18, with some meeting for the first time. The Ford family reunion will come after the installation of an historic marker on the former family property.
Descendant Agin Shaheed explained that family members boast alma maters such as Stanford and Harvard, with many going on to pursue educational occupations to prepare the next generation of Fords (and Americans) at large.
There have been two other gatherings between members, but the appearance of Sharee and DeVonn Burris of St. Louis on NBC’s “Roots Less Traveled” in 2020 brought renewed attention to this historic family’s search.
When Eric Ford learned of the case and saw the NBC special, he knew their ancestors needed an historical marker on the land. Jason helped write the wording for the marker and it was approved by the historical commission, Eric said, with the family launching a fundraiser to help pay for it. “Everyone pitched in to help,” he added.
For all of the pain and injustice that once hung over the Ford history, it’s healing and acceptance that has taken root now; Eric said the Black side of the family was the catalyst for them to get together.
“It still blows my mind that in my parents’s generation, segregation and oppression were not as removed from America as I thought [they were] growing up,” he said, and recalled a favorite quote: “It’s hard to hate up close.”
“We need to come together and have community and that’s what I want to come of this,” Eric said.
The Ford family encourages anyone who has information on their family history to contact email@example.com.
Previous coverage of this story by the Tennessee Tribune can be found at https://tntribune.com/resilience-runs-in-the-family-finding-roots-in-fordtown/.