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Hello Black Sheep: My Adams Family

Updated on April 15, 2017

Everyone has Black Sheep in their Family

Everyone has “Black Sheep” in their family. And everyone has at one time or other tried to hide their ner-do-well family members. Sometimes you could. Most of the time everyone knew, they just did not tell you they knew because they did not want to hurt your feelings.

Years ago it was easier to hide those embarrassing relatives from the world at large because the news was not as widely spread or as fast as it is now. I blame cell phones (and Facebook) for a lot of the “spreading” problems. When cell phones came out, everyone got one. I could not go to the grocery store before my husband – who was a truck driver – knew about it before I got home. He even knew what I was cooking for supper before I got checked out! But back to the “black sheep” of the family. And there were lots of them in my family. And I am sure you have them too. Admitting it is a bit different.

In one of my previous articles “The US Census: 1850-1790” I showed how we found out there were “Black Sheep” in our family as far back as 1830. This article will show how I used court records and newspapers to find some of my Black Sheep. Just remember the dates. All of this happened 150 to 200 years ago.

The Addams Family

Now I am quite sure everyone has seen the TV show “The Addams Family.” Personally, I liked the movie better, although Carolyn Jones can never be beat as Morticia Addams. And John Austin who played Gormaz Addams was once married to the lady who lived around the block from my current house and that alone makes me feel like I personally know him. (Yep, I’m name dropping.) But that TV Addams family, whether it be TV serial or movie, can’t hold a light to my own Adams Family. Not even daughter Wednesday comes close and she is one scary little girl!

Washington Burgess Adams, born 1809 SC

My Adams Family

Washington Burgess Adams, born 1809 in South Carolina, was a good-looking man. Very good looking according to the pictures I have seen of him. In 1845, he was also married with nine children and another on the way (remember: no birth control pills at that time.)

According to an article I found in a book years ago there was a bit of drama in that Mississippi town in 1845. Lots of drama!

August 13, 1845

Book entry

Jasper County, Mississippi. Paulding Newspaper Items 1844-1861 & 1891-1894 (C) 1997 by Jean Strickland & Patricia Edwards of Moss Point, MS: page. 5: Wednesday August 12, 1845, Raleigh Article dated July 19th [1845]

John McAlpin was murdered last week: rumor says by Washington B. Adam since McAlpin had been "visiting" his wife, & McAlpins' body was found in his yard.

So… of course, I then started to hunt down the actual newspaper article. I wanted the whole story. I wanted to compare the abstracted copy published in that book with the actual newspaper copy. I also want to find out if there was any possibility of some of the Adams children actually being McAlpine children instead, as it seemed Sarah Lucas Adams was very fertile!

So I started my NEWSPAPER research, looking for the article itself to see if there was more information. This is the exact copy of what I found and transcribed word-for-word from the microfilm newspaper located in the Mississippi State Archives, Jackson, Mississippi, March 2004.

August 13, 1845

newspaper entry

True Democrat, Pauling, Miss. Wednesday, August 13, 1845

"Communications for the True Democrat, Raleigh, July 19th 1845. In advance of other items I must be permitted to inform you . . . [about improvements to their village, citizens meeting, etc.] [I am assuming this to be FROM Smith Co. Miss. '96]

A most foul murder was committed in the southern part of this county last week on the body of an inoffensive citizen by the name of John McAlpine. He received several blows on the head which, the Coroner’s Inquest decided, caused his death. Rumor says that one Washington B. Adams had swore that if he ever came to his house again, he would kill him. This fact together with that of the dead body being found in Adams' yard, at once fixed suspicion upon him.

He has since left the county. It is said by those acquainted with the parties that a difficulty had been brewing for some time in consequence of Adams' intimacy with McAlpine's wife, and no doubt such was the fact, for most certainly can she make a Pandemonium where she dwells and reign the Hecaet of domestic bell's.

[reference to the election] On yesterday and during last night had good rains. Crops were suffering very much with drought.

Now, aren’t you glad I went for the whole story? Obviously, the book only got the first part, and did not READ THE WHOLE ARTICLE!

But now for the rest of the story...

Washington Burgess Adams ran to Louisiana where his wife and her Lucas family eventually followed. Adams’ two sisters also followed and settled nearby. Polly Adams Goodson and her family settled in Claiborne Parish and at last count according to an article published in the early 1900s had over three hundred descendents! The other sister, Martha “Patsy” Adams, had married Sarah’s brother, Levi Lucas while in Mississippi. They homesteaded nearby Wash and Sarah in an area called Catahoula Parish in the northeastern part of the state and had at least twelve children by the 1850 census. Sarah had baby Ruth in 1845. It is not clear if baby Ruth was born in Mississippi or after they moved to Louisiana but I suspect it was in Mississippi. We do know that they then had three more children after they moved to Louisiana. Baby Ruth grew up and married William Womack. They lived just a few miles north of where she grew up and they helped to populate that area of Louisiana with eight Womack children.

Washington Burgess Adams finally disappeared from public record sometimes before the 1860 census and since the local courthouse burned in 1886, we have a shortage of records. Consequently, I have not been able to find out when or where he died.

I recently saw on Facebook a photograph of said “Wash” Adams. Oh My Gosh, what a beautiful man! I fully understand why women chased him, but murder? I would like to believe John McAlpine’s death was more or less an accident of the fight the two men had over John’s wife, and not pure pre-meditated murder as the news article would have you believe. (As we all know: drama sells more papers.)

But Wash’s wife was no slouch either, not even after having eight kids. I can fully see where my husband and my kids got their photogenic good looks! I just wish I knew what Mrs. McAlpine looked like to get such a write up in the newspaper! It would seem to me that the “reporter” knew more about her than he is saying! (I am just reading between the lines here. wink, wink)

Sheriff Joseph Burgess Adams, born 1837 MS

Unfortunately, the story does not end there...

Washington Burgess Adams had a total of thirteen children that we have found. The fifth of which belongs to my children’s ancestry. The second became a sheriff of our small parish in the late 1800s. He was a very good sheriff from what I have read, perhaps to make up for his father’s transgressions? Perhaps he was more like his Lucas grandpa who was a preacher man, according to the 1860 census. But, we may never know.

What we do know is that Sheriff Joseph B. Adams married, had children, his wife died, and he married again quickly in order to have someone to help him care for the smaller ones as was the practical custom of the time, and eventually he committed suicide by shooting himself in the heart TWICE. As a lawman friend of mine said: This happened over one hundred years ago and I refuse to open a murder case now!

But the reasoning behind Sheriff Joseph Burgess Adam’s “suicide” was because he lost his first wife which from all reports he loved dearly and he also had lost several of his children to a horrible disease as attested by this newspaper column:

Southern Sentinel March 20, 1885

A son of Mr. W.B. Adams died March 17th inst., apparently with the same disease that has been so destructive to the Adams family of late. His death, making the fourth in the space of three weeks. As soon as it was ascertained that he was dying, Dr. Brian, who was attending the case sent for Dr. Kelly, who, in the company with young Hardy Brian, a student of medicine, repaired to the residence of Mr. Adams, and the two physicians above named, held an autopsy of the dead body, in order to ascertain if possible, what could be the disease. On examination of the brain, it was found that the disease was Cerebro Meningitis.

And the story goes on...

As if that was not bad enough, also add in this newspaper account, which shows poor old Joseph just couldn’t take any more:

From: The Ouachita Telegraph (October 29, 1887, page 2, column 6)

Winnfield, La., Oct. 19 (1887) - Special. Today this community was shocked to learn that Joseph B. Adams, ex-sheriff, had committed suicide. The cause which led him to commit this rash act are about as follows:

On Monday, the 10th, inst., W. B. Adams, his son, shot and killed Mathew M. Smith, a very prominent planter of Ward 3, of this parish. The evidence in this case was very pointed, and shows that young Adams killed Smith without any provocation, or at least any justifiable reason. [It was a domestic dispute between Little Wash and his wife, Janie Smith, and tempers got the best of all involved.]

Young Adams, and Levi Varnell as accessory, were arrested and jailed on the Tuesday following, and on Thursday following Joseph B. Adams and another son, John G. Adams, were arrested as accessory after the fact. J. B. and J. G. Adams afterwards gave bond. On Monday their trial was commenced and continued until late that evening, when the parties released on bond went home to be back next morning at 8 o'clock.

On the following morning Joseph B. Adams and his nephew were coming back to court and had come about two-thirds of the way when Mr. Adams remarked to his nephew that he had left his medicine at home, that if he had to stay in court all day he would need it and he must go back and get it and to tell the sheriff that he would be in court as soon as he could get there.

Arriving at home, he laid his coat on the bed and took a pistol, the one used by his son to kill Smith, and shot himself twice near the heart, killing himself instantly. His wife tried to get the pistol away from him but he drove her from the room. A note was found in his pocket, which is as follows:

"This 10th day of October, A. D., 1887, To the world at large: I, J. B. Adams, have lived until my troubles are so great that I don't want to live any longer in this world. As to the charge of premeditating and laying a plan to the killing of M. M. Smith is not the case. I am innocent and do stand so before God.

J. B. Adams"

The coroner's jury came to the conclusion that he came to his death at his own hands. It will be noticed that this note was written Sunday, but he did not carry out his intentions until today. He had made threats heretofore that he intended self-destruction on account of family and financial troubles. He was sheriff of this parish several years during the "seventies" (1870s) and was never known to be in difficulty.

This makes fourth deaths in this parish by violet means with the last four months, an unprecedented record in this section. Notwithstanding this, our laws are faithfully executed by vigilant officials and our people are ever ready to assist in carrying out law and justice.

I cannot help but hurt for the Adams family and all their trials and tribulations; and while there was certainly Black Sheep in the Adams family, the thousands of descendents have to remember, we are not responsible for anyone except our own actions. Joseph had been an exceptional man and sheriff for a number of years, but he just could not take it when someone accused him of helping his son in his “dastardly deed.” Actually, it seemed one of Joseph’s last acts was to go talk his son to coming in for arrangement.

Rich or Poor, they are still kin...

We cannot choose our relatives, as many of our citizens -- rich or poor -- can attest. In fact, the above story directly affects one of the past governors of Louisiana. Follow if you will: Washington Burgess Adams begat Martha Jane Adams who married Andrew Jackson Perkins. Their daughter Sarah A Sophronia Perkins married Asa Lambert Allen who begat GOVERNOR Oscar K Allen of Louisiana.

Our small Louisiana parish had more than its share of rough and violet people, but it also gave Louisiana THREE governors: Huey Pierce Long (1928-1932), Oscar Kelly Allen (1932-1936), and Earl Kemp Long (1939-1940, 1948-1952, and 1956-1960).

Just the facts...

I wrote the “facts” about my ancestors. Perhaps you will too. Or perhaps you are the type to try to hide the truth with the old story of how your ancestor broke his neck when the platform he was standing on collapsed. Maybe you can completely ignore the “fact” your ancestor was hung as a horse thief. That is your choice. However, it does not change the facts.

Down here where I live in the South, at one time (yearssss ago) it was a bigger No-No to be married to a Yankee, than to live in sin with another Southerner. You have to understand that I firmly believe that what people do is between them and their maker. But we have gotten more tolerant about Yankees in the South. (a joke folks!) We don’t answer for the Black Sheep of our families, but I might have to answer to putting the “facts” online, but that is my problem, not yours. And neither you nor I can change history. That’s a fact, Jack (as Uncle Sy Robinson would say.) We can only change ourselves, and hopefully we change for the good.

The Night Riders

The late 1800s was a hard time in Louisiana and in that time, just after the Civil War, people had to be tough to survive. The area in which I was born and raised is one of those that need its own volume in the history of Louisiana, as I have not even touched on all the other Black Sheep in our area. If you get a chance, you might want to read the out-of-print book “The Night Riders” by Richard Briley published in the 1960s, just to get a feel for the way things were back during the time just after the Civil War. Our area attracted more of the Black Sheep that any other... or so it seems. And being within a few hours hard riding of "No Man's Land" was one of the calling cards. And so, as we sit on the front porch on a hot summer night, the stories continue. My ancestors were worst than yours... or were they?

Come on by...

Now, my Black Sheep is sitting on the front porch waiting to say hello. So come on by, cousin. We will be waiting.


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    • Annette Womack profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Womack 

      17 months ago from North Louisiana

      Risa: I am not writing a book. My husband was sick for 7 years and I am lucky to be able to put together a few articles now. I went through too much with him. Winn Parish has a couple of Facebook groups you could join for information. They are very interesting. I also started one just for genealogy discussion. You might want to check them out.

    • Annette Womack profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Womack 

      17 months ago from North Louisiana

      MiKayla: We have the Joseph Burgess who married the Mary Molly Womack as being the 3rd child born in about 1833, in Brookhaven, MS. We don't have any dates about his death in our book.

      Joseph Burgess Adams born c1834, Brookhaven, Lincoln Co. Miss. died 18 Oct 1887, Hickory Valley (near Sikes) Winn Parish, La. Suicide by gun. Married first about 1854, Mrs. Mary Mollie Thomas (maiden name unknown) born 1838 Tenn., died 26 Feb 1885, Winn Parish, La They had 9 children; 3 died in 1885 along with their mother. Married second Mrs. Emiline Neely, 1886.

    • profile image

      Risa Rabang 

      17 months ago

      Hi , Ms. Womack you helped me out a few years ago.

      I am the great granddaughter of Levi and Rosella Varnell.

      This was amazing, were you going to write a book or was that Ms. Webb . Would love to read anything on my Ggrand mother side. My information runs into different branches I became frustrated and quit. Now I'm back again looking into both family sides.

      Again thanks for the info.

    • profile image

      MiKayla Cannaday McDowell 

      17 months ago

      Thanks for the info. I am the great-great-great Granddaughter of Washington Burgess Adams. My great-great Grandfather was John Cheeseman Adams (the 9th child), my great grandfather was Joseph Burgess Adams (a preacher) the nephew of the Sheriff Jospeh Burgess. My grandfather was Crosby Adams. We have a genealogy book with all the relatives in it, but we had never heard this story. We have the Joseph Burgess who married the Mary Molly Womack as being the 3rd child born in about 1833, in Brookhaven, MS. We don't have any dates about his death in our book. Thanks for the interesting information!

    • profile image


      18 months ago

      No, we really can't, Annette. And it can be hard to hear about when you first find it, too but we just have to accept it for what it was. And too, I guess we'll never know for sure the whole story behind all of these things.

    • Annette Womack profile imageAUTHOR

      Annette Womack 

      19 months ago from North Louisiana

      We never know what or who our ancestors are until we do the research. Shocked me when I found it. After many years of studying this particular family, I came to the conclusion that people or people and we all do things we wish we had not done., but we can't change the facts afterwards.

    • profile image


      19 months ago

      That's very interesting! I'm actually the great-great-great-great granddaughter of Washington Burgess Adams and his wife Sarah Lucas through their daughter Delilah. Wow. I was shocked when I found all this out too. I definitely didn't expect it, that's for sure! Haha!


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