Until the age of fifty all I knew about my great-grandmother Rebecca was that she was the wife of Fortune Stewart and the mother of my grandfather Homer and two daughters, great-aunts Fannie and Sallie. She might have had Native American ancestry.
Since then I have learned: She had been a slave in Hardy County Virginia. (It is believed she was a slave on the "Cunningham Place" located in the Trough area of Old Fields.) She was the mother of sixteen children who reached adulthood. At least four of her first born, all daughters (Mary Catherine, Jane, Rachel, Frances), had probably been slaves too. (Her husband, Fortune, may not have been their biological father, but claimed to be their father as evidenced on their marriage records.) Five of her daughters married five Hilliard brothers. She lived with her son Homer and daughter Sallie after Fortune's death and until she died.
She was possibly born in November 1829 and she died July 4, 1910.
Little is known about where Fortune Stewart came, but he was first acknowledged in Hardy County West Virginia just after the Civil War. Fortune Stewart was a freedman, who was able to relocate his family to Grant County following their emancipation. He worked as a farmer, but as his first three sons came of age they moved west to Parkersburg, West Virginia to pursue other career opportunities; the fifth son married and moved to Clarksburg, West Virginia to avoid being a farmer. Only Homer, the fourth son and my grandfather remained in the area working as a farmer and helping care for his parents.
Storiesof Fortune circulated throughout the area, indicating he was possibly from theCaribbean. It was told that he spoke French and/or Spanish. It was told that he could sit in his woodpile countingforeign currency on the stumps and return it to its hiding place. When he died the locals actually searched for the “fortune of Fortune”.
Fortune was a member, probably a Trustee, of the local black Methodist Church. Fortune could be chauvinistic: It was said that he would ride is horse tochurch with his family walking behind him. But once during a snow storm he allowed Rebecca to ride the horse to thebottom of the church hill where she got off the horse so he could ride up thehill to church.