Thursday, August 6, 2020

SARA receives out-of-state donation that tells Hempstead County story

By Melissa Nesbitt, archival manager for the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives

“Who would want these old papers?”  While cleaning out someone’s house after his or her death, many people ask this question - only to throw away items that are seemingly useless.  There is no telling how many pieces of historical puzzles are lost due to this line of thinking without an attempt to find an appropriate repository for them.  Fortunately, that was not the case with a small collection recently donated to the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives (SARA).  Thanks to Jane Shoppell and her husband John Kelly seeing their possible value, documents that once belonged to a former Hempstead County family are now available for research.

Shoppell’s father, Eugene Shoppell, served as accountant and estate executor to Elizabeth G. Chaney, who died in Colorado in 1994.  She never married and had no immediate family so, although Eugene Shoppell was of no familial relation to Chaney, papers from her estate remained in his possession.  In turn, they passed to his daughter upon his death.  Interestingly, many of the documents pertained to Hempstead County (although some originated in Illinois and Pennsylvania).

Kelly offered to donate the papers to SARA since most originated in Hempstead County.  The out-of-state items seemed oddly out of place until Archival Manager Melissa Nesbitt researched the family history.  With the help of a pedigree chart included in the donation, she built a family tree starting with Elizabeth Chaney and began to piece together the journey the documents took from Arkansas to Colorado, then to Texas, and finally back to Arkansas.

Image courtesy of the Southwest Arkansas Regional
The items donated include an appointment of Chaney’s great-grandfather, Joseph D. Gibson, as Sergeant of Company A, 1st Arkansas Infantry, U.S.A., in 1863, as well as a typed copy of a narrative written by his son David Edward Gibson, Chaney’s great-uncle. The account details how David and his father made the perilous journey across Confederate lines from Hempstead County to Fayetteville to join the Union Army. 

Though Joseph Gibson became a sergeant in the Union Army, there are included among the documents two bills of sale for slaves dated 1849.  One is for a man named Jack, and the other is for a woman named Charlotte.  Joseph Gibson is listed as the purchaser.  The 1850 U.S. Federal Census Slave Schedule lists Joseph D. Gibson as the owner of a 29-year-old black female, 25-year-old black male and a 9-month-old black male.  The ages given for Jack and Charlotte on the bills of sale correspond approximately with the ages of the enslaved people listed on the slave schedule.  The infant was possibly a child of Jack and Charlotte.  By 1860, Gibson is not found on the slave schedule.  Further research would need to be done to ascertain what became of Jack, Charlotte and their possible child and whether Gibson freed them. 

According to Joseph’s military service record and his son David’s account, Joseph Gibson died of sickness June 14, 1865, in Fort Smith.  He is interred in the National Cemetery there.  David Gibson left Arkansas after the war ended and moved to Illinois.

For more information about this collection or other historical records at the Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, call 870-983-2633 or email More information about Arkansas history and genealogical research is available at the Arkansas State Archives at or by calling 501-682-6900.