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  • Writer's pictureGail S. Blankenau

The Mary Garland Nuckolls Prayer Book

In the process of researching for my Master’s thesis in history, I have been lucky enough to locate several important primary sources that will add considerably to our understanding of the events and context surrounding the escape of two African American women from bondage in territorial Nebraska: Celia and Eliza Grayson. But a researcher’s work is never truly done, to borrow from the old phrase, and there are clues to a source that could add even more to our understanding of the black family to which Celia and Eliza may have belonged.

Family historian Benjamin Floyd Nuckolls of Galax, Virginia, published The Pioneer Settlers of Grayson County, Virginia, in 1914. In the beginning of Chapter III, “The Nuckolls Family,” Nuckolls laid out the earliest traditions of the Nuckolls family in America, with a specific mention of Mary Garland, who married John Nuckolls of Louisa County circa 1776. Nuckolls cites her Episcopal prayer book printed in 1761, that contained a record of the time of births for the couple’s nine sons and daughters, spanning 1778 to 1798. Then he writes:

There is also a record given of the births of fifteen negroes belonging to John Nuckolls, and twelve negroes belonging to Mary Garland. Of this number, none were sold out of the Nuckolls family, except two men who were sold to men who owned the wives of these two negro men.[1]

The author stated that the prayer book was in his possession as Mary Garland’s great-grandson, having been handed down in the family. However, correspondence with his descendants have yielded no trace of the prayer book—an item that one would think would have survived given its value to the family in 1914. Perhaps it was in B. F. Nuckolls’ possession on loan from another cousin.

The specificity of the births that Benjamin F. Nuckolls dutifully copied into his history suggests that the prayer book was real. Unfortunately, he did not copy the data regarding the enslaved people.

If anyone out there might know the whereabouts of the Mary Garland Nuckolls Prayer Book, I would welcome it gladly. Some of the people listed in it may be Celia and Eliza’s forebears, as they were enslaved by Ezra Nuckolls, John and Mary (Garland) Nuckolls’ youngest son.

[1] Benjamin Floyd Nuckolls, The Pioneer Settlers of Grayson County, Virginia (Bristol, Tenn., The King Printing Company, 1914) p. 66.

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