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Ralph Northam’s family owned at least 84 slaves

Did he really only discover his family history in 2017?

February 28, 2019

12:36 PM

28 February 2019

12:36 PM

The First Lady of Virginia, Pam Northam, wife of Ralph, got herself in hot water this week for handing out cotton to black students while they were on a tour. But the Northams have form when it comes to messy race relations. There’s the whole blackface or KKK costume school photograph business. Then there’s the blacking up as Michael Jackson thing, which Ralph admitted to. Oh, and Ralph Northam’s family owned at least 84 slaves.

Northam maintains that he learned about his family’s slave ownership in 2017. That story is harder to believe once you see that three out of the four grandparental lines of his family owned slaves. Two branches owned at least two dozen.

Let’s take a tour of the family genealogy. On his father’s side are the Northams, who have been in Accomack County on the Eastern Shore since at least the late 18th century. Northam’s paternal grandmother9 was a Brownlee, descended from both the convener of the Abbeville meeting and his son, the Red Shirt terrorist, as Spectator USA previously reported.

Northam’s maternal grandmother married a Yankee from Pennsylvania named Shearer, so his branch is out. But her own ancestors include the Franklins, who lived in Suffolk in Nansemond County, Virginia. Jethro Riddick Franklin, Northam’s great-great-grandfather on his mother’s side, was a private in the Confederate Army, 41st Virginia Infantry.

James Northam, Ralph’s paternal great-great-grandfather, owned the fewest slaves of the three individuals we’ll look at today. The 1850 census shows he owned nine in Accomack County at the time.

ralph northam slaves

1850 census of Accomack County, Virginia

The elder John Brownlee, also on Northam’s father’s side, owned 46 slaves in Abbeville, according to the 1860 census. He thus had a significant property interest in secession.

ralph northam slaves

1860 census records of Abbeville, S.C.

On Northam’s mother’s side, Jethro Riddick Franklin is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Suffolk, Virginia. Despite being discharged as only a private in the Confederate Army, he was not a poor man, and owned 29 slaves.

ralph northam slaves

1860 census records of Nansemond County, Virginia

If you’re keeping count, that is 84 slaves listed in these records. The most chilling detail of the records above however is in the second column, ‘age,’ which shows that most of Jethro Franklin’s slaves at that time were children.

The reason why this matters is Gov. Northam claims to have found out about this from his father, Westcott Northam. Westcott’s grandparents would have been the children of the slave owners listed in these census records. In all three cases, the Northam descendent a generation below the owner listed in the census records – Northam’s great-grandparents – probably would have grown up around their father’s slaves also. Is it really plausible that the family did not talk about any of this before 2017?


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