A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE BELTON FAMILY
The writer of the Book of Genesis was able to chronicle the creation of the world in just a few pages. My task is even more difficult for I must attempt to illustrate the history of the Belton Family on this page. It seems an impossible task of writing a definitive history of the Belton Family due to irregular or lost written records, miscegenation and oral history contradictions. Historians try to separate fact from rumor in order to provide the best hypothesis available. Therefore, this historical study is divided into two basic sections: (a) a hypothetical, historical progression prior to a traceable settlement in the state of South Carolina, and (b) the development of the Belton Family Organization which is responsible for the National Family Reunions held annually.
The belief in a Nigerian origin and the consistent versions of the African name – Sunni (Sonni, Sawney, Sonnie, and Sony) precipitated many elder Beltons to believe in the possibility of being descendants of the Songhai Empire led by Sonni Ali between 1464 and 1492. King Ali was fearsome ruler who generated wealth and a strong military. Our connection with King Ali may appear far-fetched; however, the idea provides a spiritual bridge to an African past not forgotten.
Sonni Belton is believed to have been a pure, dark-skinned African brought as a slave to the British colony of Maryland. Either Sonni and /or his sons, William George, and Sonnie, were transported into Western Virginia and then into Eastern Fairfield County, South Carolina, on the Belton Plantation in a section called Longtown. Eventually various relatives migrated as slaves or on their won in freedom after 1865 to other South Carolina countries (Kershaw, Lee, Richard, and Sumter). The search for family members sold through slavery and the search for gainful employment and a better way of life provided the basis for the expansion of the family throughout the east coast of the United States.
It was a common Southern Afro-American belief in growing large families (ten to twenty children) in order to maintain a successful farm and increase caring power to own land. The 1870 U.S. Census records provide proof that many Beltons rented their homes, owned little if any land, became sharecroppers, servants and entrepreneurs, and were unable to read or write. However, attitudes and qualities such as honesty, perseverance, and a strong sense in caring for the family provided the necessary ingredient to become worthwhile citizens of the community however large or small strides individual members made.
The spirit of family unity remained alive through individual Family Reunion in the form of picnics and cookouts. The conception of uniting the vast Belton clan, on the material or paternal sides, can be traced to August 4, 1968 when several members gathered at the home of LeEtta Parham in Chillum, Maryland. It is here that the Beltons borrowed the religious custom of “Homecoming Sunday” in calling for all black Belton relatives to a complete Family Reunion. In August 1973, the Reunion in Columbia, South Carolina at the Masonic Temple assumed a National posture including the election of officers and a commitment to meet every year. The reunion was again held in Columbia 1974, 1975, 1978, 1981, and 1983. Paterson, New Jersey in 1976, Winston Salem, North Carolina in 1977. Charlotte, North Carolina in 1979 and 1984, Washington, DC in 1980 and 1985. Hasbrouck Heights, New Jersey in 1982, High Point, North Carolina to 1986, Atlanta, Georgia in 1987 and Columbia, South Carolina in 1988.
A Constitution was officially approved in 1977 establishing the Belton Family Organization whose purpose is to promote “The Annual Family Reunion, to promote local family fellowship groups, to develop research records on family genealogies, and to promote other activities to faster family stability and fellowship.”
As we share our love with one another in the Reunion, let it be a challenge to all of us to research our past in the National Archives in Washington, D.C. state archives, local courts, birth certificates, tombstones, bibles, old photographs, or anything that will give a clearer in-sight into the development of our great family. Let us continue to create, strive, and perpetuate the strength that has made us a persistent, strong, and loving family.
From the tropics of Africa,
Herded together like animals
On ships to cross the Atlantic
To serve in American’s worst institution,
Those free spirits survived.
Today, we, their descendants, live
On a higher level and enjoy some
of the comforts of modern life,
Facing with the rest of the world
An unknown future in a nuclear age.
We will still pray, plan, work,
and, we hope, - Survive.
By the grace of God,
As free spirits.
Moses S. Belton
PRE-EMANCIPATION HISTORY OF THE BELTON FAMILY
(American Beltons of African Descent)
Recognizing the need to establish as much of the true history of the Belton Family as possible, several Belton descendants began to collect folklore and anecdotes that might shed light on our history in this country. Among these individuals were Moses S. Belton, Mark J. Belton, Sr., B. K. Belton and Joseph C. Belton Acting as the scribe to put this information in some logical sequence was David C. Belton.
This effort resulted in certain assumptions based on the consistency of stories found in folklore and in a few cases of fact. Sonni, as he was called, appears to be the first Belton ancestor on American soil He was brought as a slave to the British colony of Maryland. Sonni and/or his sons, William, George and Sonnie were transported as slaves to a plantation in what is now western Virginia. These three brothers were later sold or transferred to a Belton plantation in Kershaw County, South Carolina (Please note that this general area in South Carolina is now known as Longtown in Fairfield County. However, segments of this original area of settlement are located in present day Kershaw County.)
The name, "Sonni," is thought to be a derivation of the name, "Sunni." Many believe that the name may have been perpetuated by descendants of the Songhay Empire in honor of one King Sunnie Ali Ber (1464-1492). This African Empire was located primarily in the western area of what is now Mali and northern Nigeria. Over the subsequent generations of what we now recognize as Beltons, we find that the name Sonnie (Sunni, Sawney, Sonnie, and Sony) has frequently been bestowed upon males within this family
The name, Belton," appears to have been adopted by our forefathers at the time of emancipation. It is believed that the name originated from a slave master's family. It could be that the slave master may have acquired these individuals while residing in Virginia and brought them to South Carolina or they may have been sold to Beltons in South Carolina. This supposition is based on the fact that white Beltons were in Virginia during the latter part of the eighteenth century and among the few white Beltons found in South Carolina. The earliest recorded Belton slave master seemed to have arrived in South Carolina before 1770.
The earliest document found which suggested that white Beltons were living in South Carolina is the will of one Peter Belton and was recorded in 1735. This will reflected that he resided in the Colleton area of His Majesty's Province of South Carolina. However the will did not suggest that there were any slaves among his assets
Under the listing of "PLANTATIONS" no records have been found in South Carolina's archives to suggest that one existed. However, data in the book, "Historic Camden," published in 1905, suggests that one did exist. It was bordered on the west by the Wateree River and on the east by what is now known as the town Camden This property was purchased in 1770 by Johnathan Belton and sold to his brother, Abraham Belton, in 1776 The 1800 federal census lists the Abraham Belton household with ownership of twenty slaves
After the sale of this land to Abraham Belton, Johnathan Belton purchased other properties just north of the Camden area with much of the acreage also bordering on the Wateree River This is substantiated by his will recorded in 1804, listing its location in the Fairfield District of South Carolina We believe that this area may be what we now consider as Longtown. Another will written by Samuel Belton, residing in Lancaster County and recorded in 1793 suggests that he was also a slave owner Two additional wills made by Beltons, during this era, in the Kershaw area were found, one dated in 1794 and the other in 1791 However, neither suggested that there was slave property
No data has been discovered that would pinpoint the existence of a Belton owned plantation just prior to the Civil War However, the will of one Nicholas A. Peay provides a clue that he may have owned many Negro families who assumed the name "Belton." His will and the listing of his assets are divided into several categories, inferring that there were different geographic locations of his farms. Among the locations listed are; Graham Place, Creek Place, Canty Estate, Ross Place, Flint Hill and Belton Place. Belton Place appears to have one of the larger slave holdings. Nicholas A. Peay's will was recorded on March 2, 1857 as a resident of Fairfield County, South Carolina. However, the location for each of these farms is unclear.
If we trace the wills within the Peay Family back to that of Nicholas Peay, dated in 1813, we find that William A. A. Belton is listed as a grandson and an heir. William's parents apparently died before he was of age. Therefore it is assumed that their property was placed under the guardianship of his grandfather, Nicholas Peay. This property, including slaves appears to have eventually become a part of the estate belonging to Nicholas A. Peay.
We the African-American Beltons connected with this reunion and considering our roots in the Fairfield County and Kershaw County area." of South Carolina are believed to have been a part of the slave inventory within the estates of the Peay families at the time of emancipation
THE MISSISSIPPI AND LOUISIANA CONNECTIONS
Captain Isaac Ross, Jr., a native of South Carolina sold his land holdings to Austin Peay and moved to Jefferson County Mississippi between 1808 and 1810. Records show that he was a resident of the Camden District in South Carolina. To be more specific his property appears to have been located in the Longtown area. Captain Ross and his wife, Jane Allison Belton Ross transported all of their slaves and other personal property to Mississippi. Many of these slaves are recorded with the family name of Belton, however when referred to as a group the slaves are referred to as "The Ross Negroes."
The Journal of Mississippi History reports the following summary of Captain Ross' will recorded after his death in 1836. "That his slaves should be sent to Liberia, if they elected to go, through the American Colonization Society, and his entire fortune was to care for them, except about $10,000, given to his grand daughter; Mrs. Adelade Richardson. The inventory made under the order of the Court gave one hundred and sixty slaves, 5000 acres of well improved land and personal property valued at around $100,000." After years of litigation to break this will, the Supreme Court upheld its validity in 1847, twelve years after Captain Ross's death.
"During this long litigation and the bad feelings exhibited by all parties involved, as well as the entire community around Prospect Hill, the slaves became restless. They became insanely imbued with the idea that Isaac Ross Wade (Grandson of Captain Ross), the acting executor and general manager of the estate, was responsible for the long delay. This alone caused the burning of the house (Prospect Hill) and the attempted murder of Isaac Ross Wade and his family. "
At one AM, April 15, 1845, the Ross home was completely destroyed by fire caused by the slaves who felt that this would speed up their freedom and their return to Africa. One family member (a granddaughter of Captain Ross) perished in the fire. Lore among the African-American Beltons suggests that primarily Wade Belton and Edmund Belton instigated the burning of Prospect Hill. Wade and Edmund were older sons of Maria Belton. Wade Belton is reported to have left Jefferson County and settled in nearby Copiah County, Mississippi. Edmund was last seen in Rodney, Mississippi crossing the River enroute to Louisiana. Most of the descendants among the Mississippi Beltons are the progeny of Maria Belton's younger son, William and possibly Wade. Those Beltons participating in the Edmund Belton Reunion and considering Louisiana as their origins are believed to be the descendant of the Edmund referred to above.
THE BELTON FAMILY EMBLEM
Herbert Belton, Jr. designed the emblem shown above, and the emblem is used on all Belton Family Reunion programs and organizational letterhead. Its purpose is to represent something distinctive and meaningful to us. The circle encompassing the emblem suggests the bond that surrounds us creating strong unity and lies within the Family. The continent of Africa within the circle represents the origin from whence we came. The State of South Carolina implies the location within this country whence our Forefathers were first transplanted and known by many of us as “home.” The olive branch, symbol of peace, represents the peace and harmony perpetuated among us as a strong Family Unit.