The Shoulders We Stand On
For decades, we’ve hailed Johnny and Effie Rush as the launchpad of our legacy. From generation to generation, we’ve told the story of how they married while teenagers, rented a farm in Kingstree, S.C., and raised six children in a time when emancipation was still a fresh concept for black people in the south — who, although physically free, were still bound by economic disparity.
And we should keep telling that story. It’s part of the fabric of who we are today.
But our family’s story doesn’t just start there.
As we all know, it starts in Africa — most likely in Cameroon, a central African country on the Gulf of Guinea that was a popular hunting ground for transatlantic slave traders. Researchers believe that the majority of African Americans whose families settled in South Carolina came from Cameroon or the Republic of the Congo.
Unfortunately, that’s about all we know about our ancestors’ arrival in the U.S. The next available record skips ahead at least 300 years after the start of the slave trade. It gives us a glimpse into the life of Jane McFadden. A resident of New Zion, S.C. in Clarendon County, Jane worked as a farmer, meaning she was likely a slave. She raised three sons: Charles, Dock and Samuel, all of whom were likely born into slavery.
That’s all we know about Jane. Records indicate she died in 1870, the same year of the first census to include the names of former slaves.
Let’s turn our focus to Samuel James McFadden, one of Jane’s sons and a laborer whose name mysteriously appears on slave ownership records. Through him, much of our family line descends.
At first blush, it would appear that Samuel could have been a slave owner. But, further examination suggests that Samuel was indeed a slave and likely carried the name of the man who owned him. That, or he was a favored slave — one who was special to the family, thereby earning the distinction of being counted as a person, not just property.
Regardless, Samuel proves that we are inextricably linked to the white McFaddens of Clarendon and Williamsburg counties. Members of this influential and large family were active slaveholders in the area throughout much of the 1800s. They operated the Fullwood Plantation, a sizable plot of land granted to Hugh McFaddin from England’s King George II.
Because of the family’s size and preeminence, there were many offshoots of the McFadden clan, creating multiple, divergent family lines that produced an immense throng of distant cousins that we are just now beginning to discover.
Details about the enslaved Samuel McFadden are few. But records do offer more insight into the man who likely owned him.
The white Samuel McFadden was wealthy. His land was valued at more than $5,500. In 1860, a year before the Civil War tore the country in two, this Samuel was 67. At one time, he owned two horses, four donkeys and some mules. His farm produced five bushels of rye, 24 bushels of rice and 28 bales of cotton. He lived on a plot of land in Clarendon County that was also home to his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren.
Because slave records were scant with information about the slaves themselves, we don’t know much about the individuals in Samuel’s service.
But here’s what we do know about the black Samuel McFadden: he had a family. A large one.
Sometime in the mid-1800s, he married Charlotte Epps, daughter of Isaac and Elizabeth Green Epps. Together, they bore 12 children.
Once the family had been freed from slavery, they remained in Clarendon County. They settled in a defunct township once called Sandy Grove. Some lived on McFadden Road. Others are buried in McFadden Cemetery, a burial ground that still exists today in New Zion. Many worked and toiled as sharecroppers, still beholden to white landowners.
In spite of their ordeals, it would appear that they did find some happiness. They found people to love.
McFadden meets Rush: Forming a family tree
Before we go on, we can’t forget the Rush family line.
The earliest Rush ancestor that we’re able to identify is a man named Hilliard Rush. Born in Orangeburg County in 1825, Hilliard was a farmer or sharecropper. We don’t know much about his early life but, by the 1870 census, he was 45, lived in Clarendon County, owned real estate and had married Emma Montgomery. Their union produced about seven children. By 1900, the 75-year-old Hilliard owned his home and could read, but not write.
There aren’t many details about his offspring with Emma, but there are some notable exceptions. One of them is William Linchester Rush. It’s through him that we get one of the earliest instances of intermingling between the McFadden and Rush bloodlines — years before Johnny and Effie were ever married.
In 1885 — the same year Effie McFadden was born — William Rush married Nancy Jane McFadden. They had about seven or 10 children, depending on which records you consult. Nancy died of kidney disease in November 1919. Four months later, William married Nancy’s sister, Tina McFadden. They had about 10 children, some of whom died as toddlers.
Altogether, William Rush had nearly 20 children. Those offspring would go on to marry McCrays and Gees. Others moved as far away as Hillsborough County, Florida and Woodson County, Kansas. One became a convict.
Another, Ella Rush, married Tom McFadden, one of Samuel James McFadden’s many sons. Tom was a lifelong farmer who was drafted in World War I. Ella was the daughter of a farmer who married Tom when she was 16. Together, they had at least 13 children with names like Zelma and Stuckie and Abraham and Wardell McFadden.
And so that brings us to the part of the story we’re most familiar with.
Wardell McFadden married Henrietta Rush, one of six children reared by Johnny and Effie Rush. Henrietta and Wardell would go on to raise 12 children — some of whom remain with us today.
What does this tell us? Our families have been bonded together for generations, predating even Johnny and Effie. Our lineage is vast and rich. We are the progeny of hard workers. Cohesive families. And sweat — lots of sweat.
Some of our past is convoluted and confusing. Some of it, painful and difficult to digest. Still, we should be proud.
We should stand tall knowing that we are the harvest from the seeds planted by our forefathers and foremothers. We are their hopes. Their dreams. The result of unwavering faith in God’s promises of bounty and blessing.
May we never feel so far removed from our ancestors’ struggles and sacrifices that we forget where we come from and who we are. Yes, we are the descendants of Johnny and Effie Rush, of Samuel and Charlotte McFadden, of Hilliard and Emma Rush. But more than that, we are the heirs of a significant and powerful legacy — one we must honor, cherish and uphold.
We descend from a long line of agricultural laborers. Many of them worked 52 weeks a year. Several were unable to read or write. Some had never attended school; others never matriculated beyond the first or third grade.
Our family’s oldest available record, as of now, belongs to Jane McFadden. Her mother and father are unknown, as is the identity of the father of her three sons. I haven’t found records showing if Charles and Dock had children.
The white Samuel McFadden (spelled “Sam’L McFaddin” in historic documents) owned at least 31 black men, women and children in Sumter County. We don’t know their names. Because slaves were considered property - not people - their names typically were kept off the census records. The only identifiers to validate their existence are their gender, ages and, of course, skin color.
In neighboring Williamsburg County - another area from where our family descends - J.J. McFaddin managed a significantly larger slave operation. He owned 102 slaves, ranging from ages 72 to 25 to 1.
Charlotte Epps McFadden, wife to Sam’L McFadden, died in 1934 at the age of 85. Her killer is listed as malaria.
William Rush and Tina McFadden Rush lost their infant daughter, Janie, six months shy of her second birthday. Their 8-year-old son Payne died of measles. A daughter, Lucille Rush, died of dysentery in 1917. She was five.
Hilliard Rush died sometime before 1912 after slipping into a diabetic coma. His wife, Emma, died in 1917 of Bright’s disease.
With James McFadden, Mariah McFadden had at least eight children. She had another daughter, Orila Frierson, who died of pulmonary tuberculosis.
In 1939, Thomas McFadden, the 26-year-old son of Tom and Ella McFadden, was shot to death in Turbeville, according to a Florence County death certificate. Like his father and grandfather before him, he was a farmer.
Nearly 30 years later, his brother Arthur McFadden died. Records lists his manner of death as homicide. An autopsy was never performed. He left behind a wife named Neta.
Robert Rush, son of William D. Rush and a woman named Margaret Hudson, died in 1935 of an accidental drowning. He was 42.