Ardis Ligon Searches for Her Ancestor Jeremiah Turner

Portrait of Ardis Ligon

I love family. My two sons are part of my reason for doing this research. Growing up, my Dad, George Jerry Turner (1920-2001) would tell my brothers and I about our great-grandfather Jeremiah (Jery) Turner (1840-1917). Jeremiah was a slave, and the son of the slave master Squire Turner (1793-1871), a prominent, pro-slavery lawyer in Richmond, Madison County, KY.

Portrait of Ardis LigonThis is the story we were told:

Jeremiah Turner is your great-grandfather. Jeremiah’s grandmother escaped from her master and disappeared in to the Florida Everglades. At the time, the Seminole Indians inhabited that area and would hide the runaway slaves. When the master found his runaway female, she was pregnant by a Seminole Indian. She gave birth to a daughter, who in later years was pregnant either by the slave master or the slave master’s son, Squire Turner. The baby born was Jeremiah Turner, my grandfather.”

“Jeremiah fought in the Civil War and gained his freedom for his service.”

I became interested in genealogy in the mid 90’s. My curiosity led to many long hours on my computer. After thoroughly searching the National Archives’ website, I then went to Washington, D.C. to collect Civil War records on my Turner family. I am still amazed, that I actually had the whole original Civil War Pension File for Jeremiah Turner in my hands at the Archives. I now have copies of those files at my home in Cincinnati. 

Image of enlistment records, 18th Colored Infantry.
6 Sep 1864 – Jeremiah Turner musters into the US Colored Troops.

I had been posting to every genealogy message board I could find. In 2011, I received a call from a Dave Hardesty. He had seen one of my posts pertaining to Jeremiah and Squire Turner. I was so excited to hear Dave’s message! His was the first response to my post about the relationship of my great-grandfather Jeremiah Turner, a slave, and Squire Turner, his owner/father.

I immediately returned Dave’s call and I am sure the conversation lasted several hours. Dave and I exchanged a great deal of information. We began a new journey as cousins. In the summer of 2012, Dave and his wife Jo Ann came to Ohio to meet me. I can not tell you how happy or excited I was! My wish would have been that my Dad was still with us … to witness his stories come to life.

Dave and I have become very close and keep in touch regularly. Through him, I was led to the ‘Coming To The Table’ group, and then here, to ‘BitterSweet.’ I joined CTTT, and I am excited that – finally – we can share what it’s like to connect with family members …  descendants of our ancestors’ slave owners. People are accepting the truth of our combined history.

Family research is not easy. It does not go in ABC order. In addition to Archery, Card Making, and Ceramics, I am also enrolled in a Genealogy class at Dunham Recreation Center.  Instructor Robin Bonaventura has greatly guided me in my own family research journey. She has shown the class how to gather our information into a more workable state. Robin is also my Archery Instructor; she teaches us that Archery also takes a lot of focus, just like Genealogy, to accomplish your bigger goal.

I am now organized!!  Scattered pieces of paper have been properly filed with the pertinent family member.  Robin helped me focus and I have accomplished more then I ever thought possible. My two major family lines (Turner and Estill), each have a big binder, organized by name. Instead of taking a big binder to libraries, I have made small, calendar-planner books of sleeved, 5×7 cards that I can manage easily.

Our Genealogy class meets each Monday for 2 hours, and I continue to travel. We take road trips to libraries, historical societies and research centers.

As of this writing, I have participated in two call-in sessions with members of ‘BitterSweet.’ XX I am beginning to connect to others’ slave/slave owner family relationships. Individual members bring a lot of insight in their journey on this new path. Our last call-in session was amazing. We were all brought to tears while listening to one lady’s journey.

I am still very active in family history and breaking through the brick walls – not only in the Turner and Estill family – but also Phelps, Kennedy and Moore surnames. I have reason to believe I descend from Monk Estill (1700s-1835), the first slave freed in Kentucky,

Image of Monk EstillDave and I also share an interest in ‘Uncle’ Monk. Following the 1782 Battle of Little Mountain (or Estill’s Defeat), Monk carried a wounded James Berry twenty-five miles to safety near the stockade at Boonesborough. James Berry is Dave Hardesty’s 4x great-grandfather.

“Monk Estill arrived in Kentucky in the 1770s as a slave and was later freed, the first freed slave in Kentucky. He made gunpowder at Boonesborough, KY. His son, Jerry, was the first African American born in Kentucky”. 

For more see the Kentucky Encyclopediaand The Fascinating Story of Black Kentuckians, by Dunigan.

5 thoughts on “Ardis Ligon Searches for Her Ancestor Jeremiah Turner”

  1. Fascinating! I am working on a play and have found reference to Uncle Monk Estill as a good fiddler. If you also are descended from the Phelps family, might it be the family of Jake Phelps? Are there other fiddlers in your family, and do they have any family tunes handed down from person to person?

    1. Media May, I was wondering if you received my reply yet from yesterday? Hoping we can connect and discuss what your interest is in Monk Estill? Truly looking forward to hearing from you. Ardis Turner–Ligon

  2. I am so happy to receive your message. I am currently researching Monk Estill. I am descended from the Phelps family, through my mom. Her mom is Edna Lee Phelps-Estill and it is through Jake Phelps. I am not sure of the fiddlers in the family, but vaguely remember mention of this years ago; not sure who was telling the story. To my knowledge, there is an elder Phelps still living. Her name is Vina Ruth Phelps-Beatty; just turned 88 years old. I will try calling her to see what she might remember. Thanks for contacting me; here is my email address.

    Can not wait to hear from you.

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