Centuries old documents reveal connections to historic property

(WMC-TV) - It is the oldest home in Shelby County and possibly West Tennessee. It also happens to be a treasure trove of documents. The documents were recently discovered at Davies Manor and they actually name the slaves who once worked the land.

It is an extraordinary find that dates back to the 1700s. Action News 5 found one local African American family who is making a historic connection.

Wearing white cotton gloves, Nancy McDonough, Davies Manor executive director, gingerly leafed through pages that are centuries old.

"These records start with the birth of Patta, and she was born in February 1792," McDonough pointed out.

A little book, recording the births and deaths of slaves owned by the Davies family. The Davies were wealthy plantation owners who moved to West Tennessee in the early 1800s from Virginia.

The documents are a rare find because the record lists more than just dates. It lists names, which is unusual for this type of document.

One of those names has great significance to a local family.

"There's Lucinda. Lucinda was born September 1819," said McDonough.

Action News 5 learned that Lucinda's descendant is believed to be Kevin McVay, a senior manager at FedEx.

"The records show, that Lucinda was my great grandmother's grandmother," said McVay.

That is five generations. And McVay has more proof.

"There is an oral history that is there as well. My grandmother's family actually lived on this plantation," he explained.

It was long-time friend and genealogy buff Dwight Fryer who made the connection between McVay's family and Davies Manor.

Fryer has been working on McVay's family tree, and is connected to Davies Manor through his work with the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society.

"This connection's there. It's just pretty obvious that there's this line that intersects between the Davies family and this property and that maternal side of Kevin's family," said Dwight Fryed.

Kevin McVay's family members aren't the only local descendants.

Researchers at Davies Manor have contacted at least five African American families who may have a connection to the property.

"The connections that continued. The slaves, whether they stayed on the plantation, stayed many of them in the area and there were still connections through these ledgers, they did their business through the commissary. They bought the seeds they needed; they sold their cotton through the commissary. So there's just this long standing connection," explained McDonough.

It is a connection coming to life from the fragile pages of once forgotten books.

It will take years before the newly discovered ledgers and documents can be catalogued and scanned, but eventually they will be made available to the public, through the Shelby County Archives.

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