Friday, February 20, 2009

Washington Family in Tennessee

Baker’s book turns focus on Washington family
Then and Now • By J. Mark Lowe • Robertson County Historical Society • As printed in the Robertson County Times, December 10, 2008

We have all heard of the Washington family who settled in Robertson county, and the stately homes they built in the Cedar Hill area. The stories and connections to the Washington family are about to be presented in a new, well-researched book written by John F. Baker, Jr. The Washingtons of Wessyngton Plantatation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom will be published in February 2009, by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster.

John Baker started writing this book about three years ago, but he has been collecting the information contained in this book his entire life. The book begins in 1796 when Joseph Washington, a distant cousin of President George Washington, came to Robertson county and continues with the heritage of the entire Washington and allied families (white and black) until the beginning of the twentieth century.

Baker added, “The title may lead one to believe it is only about my family, but this book tells about the white Washingtons, the black Washingtons and many other families in Robertson county who interacted with those families. Over 700 names are included in the index.”

John is surrounded by very family oriented individuals. “It was always my plan to preserve this family information in a book for future generations.”

John's interest began when a picture of four former slaves in his 7th grade history book attracted his attention. When he learned that two of those individuals were his grandmother's grandparents, he was hooked. As I continued to find other stuff about the other connections on the Wessyngton plantation, I became as curious about other family's history as my own. It will probably never stop. One of the first “older” folk I interviewed was Mattie Terry. She died in 1982 at age 93.

Since I continue meeting people connected with the family and learning about the birth of new family members, the stories about life from the past are meant to be shared. The theme of this book is the importance of family as the key to survival. 
John Baker was born in Springfield, Tennessee to John Baker, Sr. and Georgia Cobbs Baker. 

He graduated from Springfield High School, continued his education at Nashville Tech, worked in the banking industry and developed a career with Verizon for the next twenty years. 

The average Tennessee slaveholder owned three to five slaves. The Wessyngton Plantation and Washington family owned 274 slaves in 1860, making this family the largest slaveowners in this state with the largest tobacco plantation in America. The Washingtons of Wessynton Plantation: Stories of My Family's Journey to Freedom is intended to let the family and others learn about the accomplishments of these former slaves in spite of their hardships. They purchased land and farms, they founded schools and churches. 

The white Washington family kept black family members together during slave times. The records were precise and exact on their family; with farm records detailing information on the slaves and contracts. Descendants will learn about their history. 

This book is filled with stories John collected from older family members and historic records. John related a story of the Antioch Baptist Church just after the Civil War. The church members met to determine for whom they would vote. Every male on Wessyngton was a registered voter, as indicated in Washington Family Papers. 

As John met with family members, he learned new stories and delved deeper into those told. Mary Washington Holly sent a picture of John's Great-Great-Grandfather that he had never seen. She told him stories that her father had shared with her. John also learned that Granville Washington's daughter raised a neighbor of a co-worker of John. The neighbor was 106. Granville's daughter married the neighbor's Uncle and raised this young lady. She knew Granville Washington's wife personally. 

Granville Washington was the son of the slaveowner and a slave. 
John looked for literary agents that dealt in subject matter of the book. He signed with an Agent in April 2007, and began working with that agent in early June. The book contains 17 Chapters with over 100 photographs. It is fully documented and includes the following topics: Civil War, Emancipation, Cherokee removal, Reconstruction, Andrew Jackson, Cheatham family, Nat Turner's insurrection, and a family DNA study.

John great Aunt, Maggie Washington, died in 2003 at age 99. She always encouraged John's research. 

“She always felt that I was destined to write and share this story.” John is already planning his next project. He plans to continue to learn from other descendants, collecting additional photographs and stories. He would also like to develop a genealogy guide for researchers, including children. This book is a compelling tale of survival and understanding in a different time and place

. It will help every family learn to appreciate their siblings. Look for upcoming book signing by John Baker, Jr. in Robertson county. Visit John's website ( to learn more about his book. To learn more about Robertson county and her people, visit the history museums located throughout the county. Call 615-382-7173 for more information.

J. Mark Lowe
J. Mark Lowe Reviews
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