Richard Chedister – From Enslaved to Surveyor

 by Jan Stevens Slater

© 2017 Jan Stevens Slater Used with permission

A land warrant application signed by Richard Chedister in 1814 shows his settlement in 1809

When Marlene Garrett Bransom and William Allen Davison published their work “Early African Life in Waynesburg, Greene County, Pennsylvania” in 2002 I was fascinated by the information they had gathered and recorded.  Of special interest were the Slave Manumissions found among the deeds in the Greene County Courthouse.  One record was that belonging to “Richard”

“Richard”, a Slave, was born about 1776 in Pennsylvania. The first record found that mentions his name is his Manumission filed in 1801 from Thomas Roach to “Richard”.  There were few Slaves with  known surnames in Washington County and what is now Greene County.  Most were referred to in public records only by their given name and perhaps a mention of their Mother’s given name when they were registered at birth. Connecting the Slave Richard with the free man of color Richard Chedister happened with a combination of luck and determination in reviewing  available online records  found for the Chedister/Chedester/Chidester and Roach surnames in Washington and Greene County.

While Thomas Roach appears to be an early inhabitant of what is now Greene County it is unknown where in Pennsylvania Richard was born. Roach is found on the 1772  Bedford County, Springhill Township Tax List and then mentioned as early as the second term of the court held for Westmoreland County in 1773 along with some very familiar Greene County names. Roach appears in early court records with Thomas Hughes, the Swans, Vanmetres and others.  The story of John Swan tells of coming to Pumpkin Run in 1767 to “Tomahawk” a claim for land and then returning therein 1768 with his family and several Slaves. It is possible that Thomas Roach was among those who first came to Muddy Creek.

Boyd Crummine describes the court record in his  History of Washington County and Biographical Sketches of Many of Its Pioneers and Prominent Men:

“At the second term of the Quarter Sessions, held July 6, 1773, the grand inquest contained inter alia the following names:  James Crawford, living nearly opposite Fredericktown; James Devore, adjoining Andrew Devore, also kept a ferry at the mouth of Pigeon Creek; Brice Virgin, and Henry Taylor.  At this term there were two bills of indictment for Riot found against Henry Vanmetre, Abraham Vanmetre, Jacob Vanmetre, Simeon Moore, Jesse Pigman, Nathan Freaks, Thomas Roach, Daniel Murdoch (Moredoch), Charles Swan, John Swan, John Swan, Jr., Thomas Swan, Thomas Hughes, James Johnson and one Harrison, all residents of what is now Greene County.”

Thomas Roach did not register any Slaves as required by the 1780 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery but in the 1790 the census for Washington County one Slave is recorded in his household.  Later census records indicate that Richard was born about 1776 in Pennsylvania.  It is possible that “Richard” was not owned by Roach at the time of the Gradual Abolition Act or was registered in another county, or that he was not residing in the State of Pennsylvania. There is evidence that some Slaves were never registered as required.  There is no indication in the early Washington County tax lists that Roach owned Slaves.  In the summer of 1788 he joined Goshen Baptist Church and is identified as being one of the “seven day people” rather than a First Day Baptist who were directed that if they were not comfortable with the way of the church they could take letters of dis-mission and form their own. Roach appears on a list of those dismissed prior to 1799.  Although there were Slaves among the members of Goshen Baptist Church, Richard does not appear among them.

In the 1800 census in Cumberland Township, Greene County, previously Washington County until 1796, the record for Thomas Roach does not indicate that he owns any Slaves.  Roach is still living in Cumberland Township in close proximity to his wife’s Rice relatives and is recorded as being a free white male of age 45 and over. In his household Roach has one free white female between the age of 10 and 15 and one free white female between the age of 26 and 44.  It is possible that “Richard” was living as a Free Man of Color by then and Roach formalized his Freedom the following year by filing a Manumission.  Without the Manumission by Roach, Richard would have been a Slave for life.

Richard’s Manumission reads as follows:


Know all men by these presents that I Thomas Roach of the township of Cumberland
County of Greene and Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, for divers good causes
and consideration me – the said Thomas Roach hereunto moving, have liberated
and discharged, and by these presents do liberate, discharge, and forever
quit claim to all right interest or claim I have, or ever had in and to
a certain MULATTO named RICHARD, so that thereafter for ever he may act
transact and contract as another free man. In witness whereof I have hereunto
set my hand and seal this fourteenth day of November in the year of our
Lord one thousand eight hundred and one.

In presence of Henry Swan

Greene County Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
Thomas Roach (seal)
(seal) Before me the Subscriber a Justice of the peace in & for the said
county came Thomas Roach and acknowledged the above instrument of writing
to be his Act and Deed for the purposes therein mentioned. In testimony
where of I have hereunto set my hand & seal November 14, 1801.
Ex Recorded 19 Nov 1801
Wm. Seaton
John Boreman

Chedister is a surname found among the study of Free Persons of Color in Greene County as early as the 1820 census where people of color were enumerated separately from their white peers.  When searching for information about  Slave owner Thomas Roach I discovered that Richard Chedister appears in the land records.  A search of the Chedister surname shows that Richard Chedister was issued a land warrant for 165 Acres in Center Township named “Spots Wood” in 1814, with interest charged from 1809, and a patent in 1817. Richard also applied for a warrant on an adjoining 223 acres in 1815 which was patented in 1837.

Richard’s son, Thomas R. Chedister, was issued a warrant in 1833 for 20 acres in Center Township adjoining lands of Richard.  The outside packet information gives Thomas’s middle initial only but the document itself states his full name as Thomas Roach Chedister.  It appears that Richard named a son for his owner.

Digging deeper I was able to find Richard Chedister had given a statement in 1828 that he was a witness to the will of Thomas Roach.  This sent me searching for everything and anything about Richard Chedister.  Along with Roach’s will, Richard is a witness on at least two other Greene County wills, that of George Sellers, Sr who died in 1837 and Mathias Roseberry in 1852.  The other witness on the will of George Sellers, Sr is Thomas R. Chedister.  Thomas also witnessed the will of David Sellers who died in 1837. I believe it is rare in Greene County to find two men of color, one a freed Slave, witnessing the will of a white man.  It suggests that the Chedister family was well-respected.

In the 1880 will of Elizabeth Chess she mentions land that had belonged to her father that had been surveyed by Richard Chedister. In March of 1835 there is a record of payment to Richard Chedister by the estate of Thomas Kent for surveying. In 1836 Richard surveyed a land division between James, Samuel and John West in Center Township. There are no doubt other surveys completed by Richard though the 1850 census declares him a farmer at the age of 74.

This Free Man of Color, Richard Chedister, first shows up in the census as a head of household in 1820 in Center Township. In 1813 he had married “Hettie”Wilson and by 1814 had filed his first land warrant. In 1841 he attended The State Convention of the Colored Freemen of Pennsylvania in Pittsburgh representing Fayette County two years after Free Men of Color lost the right to vote in Pennsylvania.  It is unknown if Fayette County had no one to represent them of if he had family connections there. Nathaniel McCurdy was also present and representing Greene County.

Richard Chedister, born a Slave in 1776 died a Free Man of Color in Center Township in 1857 leaving houses and land near Rogersville to his children and the children of his son Thomas Chedister. The witness testifying to the handwriting on his will was a younger George Sellers.  Richard is believed to be buried in Rogersville Cemetery next to his son Jackson Chedister with an unreadable flat stone marking his grave.

Richard Chedister, born a Slave, was literate and would have been schooled in mathematics to become a land surveyor.  While it is unknown if he voted as some other Free Persons of Color living in Greene County did prior to 1838, he did sit on a committee at the 1841 State Convention of Colored Freemen who created a statement concerning suffrage and the disenfranchisement of men of color that was to be delivered to all people of color.

Richard Chedister deserves to be remembered as do all of the many Enslaved People and Free Persons of Color who lived in Greene County, Pennsylvania.

© 2017 Jan Stevens Slater. All rights reserved.

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