Wednesday, December 2, 2020

SARA records leave clues to identity of photo subject

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

Digitally restored photo identified
as Miami Love

An image in SARA’s collections of an African American woman raises questions. Who was Miami Love, and what was her connection to Richard Samuels, one of Arkansas’s historic Black legislators during Reconstruction?

Among SARA’s collections is a small portrait of a young-looking African American woman identified as “Miami Love, wife of Richard Samuels, founder of First CME Church in Washington, Arkansas, old state capital during the Civil War.” But, should the identification be taken at face value or investigated further? Because both primary and secondary sources can be fallible, the ability to evaluate and compare sources is a necessary skill for historians and genealogists, much like the investigative skill of a detective.

Such is the case with the portrait caption. Who was Miami Love? Several items in SARA’s collections mention her. A scrapbook entry in the Carrigan papers, an extensive collection of papers related to the well-known Carrigan family in Washington, Arkansas, mentions the following:

Another noted slave of Washington was Miama [sic] Love, who married Russ Davis who ran a[n] eating house at the old Dutch Wright home. Her mother, Aunt Fannie, was owned by a man named Love in Salisbury, NC. He lost a good deal of money and sold his slaves to Albert Pike who brought Aunt Fannie and the baby to Little Rock to be a special maid to his wife, who was an invalid. Miama was sold later to Mr. Cates in Little Rock. No doubt when Albert Pike brought his family to refugee in Washington during the war, his wife brought Aunt Fannie with her. Then after they were freed, she [Fannie] continued to live in Washington and in 1866 sent for her daughter, Miama, and sent her to New Orleans to take a course as a seamstress.[1]

Since the source of this narrative is unknown, by itself the document doesn’t provide enough good evidence for Miami Love’s identity. Starting with the statement that “Miami … married Russ Davis,” a search of marriage records in Hempstead County indicates Mr. James R. Davis, age 33, of Bois d’Arc and Miss Miami C. Love, age 30, of Washington married on March 20, 1878.[2] The 1910 U.S. Census for Hempstead County includes the couple; it records that in 1910 they had been married for 32 years, confirming the 1878 date. The census also records that this had been the first marriage for both parties, and that Davis’s first name was “Russell. Other sources, such as Davis’ obituary in the Washington Telegraph, show that he was called “Uncle Russ”.[3] The 1900 and 1880 U.S. Censuses for Hempstead County both reported the couple living in Ozan Township.[4]

The 1880 Census reveals that Fannie Samuels lived in her stepson Robert Samuels’ household, located next door to the Davises. Fannie’s reported marital status indicates she was widowed.[5] Though no marriage record has been found for Fannie and her late husband, and they have not been found on the 1870 Census, consulting other records supports his identity. Who, then, was her stepson Robert’s father?

Regie Heard, a daughter of former slaves who grew up in Washington and who co-authored the book Regie’s Love, recalls:

Everything I learned about slavery was through my mother and old people. I liked to talk to old people and old people like Rob Samuels liked to talk to me. He’d been county clerk and was the son of Richard Samuels, one of our first black politicians during Reconstruction. He’d served in the state legislature and was Miami Davis’ stepfather. Miami and her husband ran the hotel, The Davis House.[6]

Though Ms. Heard recalled Rob Samuels as county clerk, Rob (aka Bob/Robert) recalled his father Richard (aka Dick) serving as the Hempstead County Clerk in an interview in the Arkansas Slave Narratives. [7] The Historical Report of the Secretary of State 2008, in which Richard is listed as R. Samuels, indicates his term lasted from 1872-1874.[8] The report also confirms his service in the state legislature during Reconstruction. His term of office in the Fourteenth District, Hempstead County, was from April 2 to July 23, 1868, and during the special session of Nov. 17, 1868 to April 10, 1869. In this entry, he is listed as R.R. Samuels.[9]

Richard Samuels not only made history in the political arena, but also in the spiritual. According to the history of St. Paul C.M.E. Church written by the late Dr. Llewellyn Williamson of Washington, 

The C.M.E. Church in Washington antedates the organization of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church). It was organized as the ‘Methodist Church of Color’ several years before 1870 when the C.M.E. Church was organized... In the organization of the C.M.E. Church (which sprang from the M.E. Church South) Rev. Richard Samuels of Washington was the clerical representative and became the first preacher of the Washington District.[10] 

The Rev. Samuels’ death was due in part to his attendance of a church conference in Jackson, Tennessee, and his subsequent travel to Memphis. He contracted yellow fever during his travels and died on Sept. 4, 1878.[11] According to author Regie Heard, “Before papa bought our house, we rented the old Samuels’ house at the edge of town where Richard Samuels was buried. … The official story was that Richard Samuels’ body wasn’t brought into town because he died of smallpox. …”[12] Though his true cause of death was yellow fever, Heard’s information seems accurate given that there is no burial plot for Richard Samuels at the Washington Cemetery. To date, no grave site for Samuels has been located on his former property, though the remains of his former home still stand. 

Fannie Samuels' headstone
Going back to the untitled and undated document regarding Miami Love and her mother Fannie, other sources corroborate its information. One is the headstone of Fannie Samuels. She is buried in the African American section of the Washington Cemetery, and the headstone inscription indicates she was born in “Saulsberry [sic] NC”.[13] Indicative of the relationship between Fannie and Miami is their burial in proximity to one another.[14] Another source confirming Miami’s status as a former slave of Albert Pike is the obituary of James Russell Davis which states, “His wife, who was a house girl in the family of General Albert Pike, died several years ago and he leaves no children.”[15] Miami Love Davis’s obituary validates the approximate time she moved to Washington. It states: “She came to Washington from Little Rock in 1866, or a few years after the Civil War.”[16] 

Coming back full circle to the portrait after evaluating the various records, it can be reasonably concluded that Fannie Love, rather than Miami Love, was the wife of Richard Samuels. That still doesn’t positively identify the woman in the portrait, however. For further identification, knowledge of period clothing styles is helpful. The dress appears to be one dating from the  period of the mid-to-late 1860s, rather than from later decades. Though one cannot say with 100 percent certainty, it seems more likely the portrait is of Fannie rather than Miami. Unfortunately, there is no information regarding who donated the portrait or who wrote the identification on it. Regardless, the portrait is a priceless piece of Arkansas’s African American and Samuels family history.

[1] Carrigan papers, Scrapbook 4, MSF 011, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington Arkansas

[2] "Arkansas, County Marriages, 1837-1957," database with images, FamilySearch ( : 18 March 2019), 004368484 > image 339 of 774; county offices, Arkansas.

[3] “Obituary of J.R. Davis,” Washington Telegraph, Washington, Arkansas, 13 Jun 1919, page 1, hereafter cited as J.R. Davis obituary.

[4] Year: 1880; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Roll: 46; Page: 497C; Enumeration District: 112; Year: 1900; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Page: 11; Enumeration District: 0049; FHL microfilm: 1240060

[5] Year: 1880; Census Place: Ozan, Hempstead, Arkansas; Roll: 46; Page: 496B; Enumeration District: 112

[6] Regie Heard and Bonnie Langenhahn, Regie’s Love: A Daughter of Former Slaves Recalls and Reflects, (Menomonee Falls, WI, McCormick & Schilling, 1987), p. 12, hereafter cited as Regie’s Love

[7] Federal Writers' Project: Slave Narrative Project, Vol. 2, Arkansas, Part 6, Quinn-Tuttle. 1936. Manuscript/Mixed Material. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, <>.

[8] Arkansas Secretary of State’s Office. Historical Report of the Secretary of State 2008, (The University of Arkansas Press, 2008), p. 413

[9] Ibid, pp. 131-132

[10] Churches: St. Paul Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Washington, VFSA 0268, Southwest Arkansas Regional Archives, Washington, Arkansas

[11] “Yellow Fever in Hempstead County,” Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), 5 Sep 1878, page 1; Yellow Fever Correspondence, Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), 6 Sep 1878, page 1

[12] Regie’s Love, p. 12

[13] Washington Cemetery (Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas), Fannie Samuels headstone, photographed by author, 13 November 2020.

[14] Personal visit of author to burial place of Fannie Samuels and Miami Davis, Washington Cemetery, Washington, Hempstead County, Arkansas

[15] J.R. Davis obituary

[16] Obituary of Miami Davis, Washington Telegraph, Washington, Arkansas, 17 Nov 1916, page 1