Sunday, May 26, 2013

Isaac Holliman - A Story of the Old South, Part I

by Glenn N. Holliman

Last year in this space, Sandi Royal of Virginia, told the family story of her great great grandparents, one a former slave and one a slave owner's daughter, who defied the severe mores of the 1800s, eloped, married and against social odds raised a family.  In the 21st Century descendants of this couple, Isaac and Ann Gray Holliman, gather regularly in southeast Virginia to celebrate their history and family.  In October 2012, my son, Christopher S. Holliman, and I joined several of these descendants to explore our shared history in Isle of Wight County, Virginia. 

This is a story of people connected by history and family....

As the tobacco and later cotton culture of the southern colonies and later states took hold in the 18th and 19th Centuries, some Holliman families, descendants of Christopher Holyman (who died in 1691 without owning other human beings), purchased slaves.  We know this because in their Wills, these Hollemans (of various spellings) devolved persons in bondage to their off-spring.  

Due to the lack of legally recording early births in Virginia, we have an incomplete understanding of family relations, especially so among African-Americans, most of whom were held as slaves. In addition, marriage was not legally recognized or recorded for slaves.  Indeed part of the special horror of southern slavery was that husbands were sold away from wives and children, and children from their parents.

As generations passed these African-Americans who had lost their language, their religions and their very names, adopted European names and melded the remains of their past with the emerging culture of a new United States.  Persons held in bondage took the names of the slave owners, and hence today, especially in southeastern Virginia, one will find numerous African-American Hollimans who have gone on to prosper in the New World.  

Which leads us into the story of Isaac and Ann Gray Holliman....

Below, soy bean fields and autumn wild flowers on the original farm of Christopher Holyman, who came to Virginia in 1650 from Bedford, Bedfordshire, England and farmed in Isle of Wight, Virginia until his death in 1691. 

Below some descendants of Isaac Holliman and Ann Gray on an autumn tour in southeastern Virginia to explore ancestral sites.  Right to left are Cyndi Barnett, Tammy HuntDoris Knox and Robert Royal, husband of Sandi Royal.  This photo was taken October 2012 on a bridge overlooking the Blackwater River in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, the area where Isaac and Ann Gray Holliman lived after the Civil War. The original Christopher Holyman plantation was established along the Blackwater River and Mill Swamp bordering Surry County.  Hollemans today of African and English descent still live in these first settlements of what became the United States.

Next posting, more of the amazing story of Isaac and Ann Holliman and their American legacy....

Have questions about Holliman family history? You are invited to join the Hollyman Email List at and the Hollyman Family Facebook Page located on Facebook at "Hollyman Family". Post your questions and perhaps one of the dozens Holyman cousins on the list will have an answer. For more information contact Tina Peddie at, the list and Facebook manager for Hollyman (and all our various spellings!).

Since early 2010, I have been publishing research and stories on the broad spectrum of Holliman (Holyman) family history at . For stories on my more immediate family since the early 20th Century, I have been posting articles since early 2011 at .

Let's save the past for the future! If you have photographs, letters, memorabilia or research you wish to share, please contact me directly at Several of us have an on-going program of scanning and preserving Holyman and related family records. Write please and tell us of your items. Thanks to the Internet, we are able to scan, upload to the web (with your permission) and return the materials to you.

Announcing also a "Seminar and Site" gathering October 18 and 19, 2013 in Fayette, Alabama for Hollimans and associated families whose ancestors are from that area. Space at the Rose House Inn is limited for the occasion due to a football weekend. For information, contact me at the above email.  - GNH

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