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Uncle Jerry Akin about 1895--The Oldest Man Then Living?

"Perhaps no man has lived on the earth ... who has experienced more joy and contentment and fewer troubles and trials than this simple negro who was a slaves for the major portion of his life."

-a white reporter


The Legend ...

Homer Voiles of Cherokee County sent this picture in 2001. The publication it appeared in is unknown to him, but it appears to be a newspaper article. According to several dates mentioned in the text on the back of the photo [383KB GIF], this picture was taken and the article appeared around 1895 or 96. It claimed he was born in 1760 or 61 and was then 136 years old. Notice the pet raccoon and the drinking gourd to his right.

The text may be valuable for the names it contains. Uncle Jerry was a slave owned by several different people, and took the name Akin from his last owner, John Akin of Spring Garden. After the Civil War, Uncle Jerry lived on with his old master until he died, then he and a woman named Rose went to live with Capt. John Davis. Rose had a daughter, Maria, who cared for Uncle Jerry at the end of his life so that he would not be sent to the poor house against his will.

Names mentioned:

Spencer Roane, Annie Roane, Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, General George Washington, Mr. King, Colonel Rollins, Brock Brothers, Mr. Patton (actually Paden), John Bale, Capt. Jim Bale, John Akin, Rose, Capt. John Davis, Maria, Capt. J. N. Hood, Thomas Allsup.


Death of Uncle Jerry Aiken, Aged One Hundred and Thirty-Three Years

The Piedmont Inquirer says: Everybody for forty miles around Piedmont knew Uncle Jerry Aiken, the 133 year old negro who lived at Spring Garden, five miles above this city, and they will hear with a tinge of sadness of the good old man's demise, which occurred on Monday of this week. He was in his 134th year.

Jerry Aiken was one of the few men over 100 who had proof of his extreme age. There can be no doubt that the age given is nearly if not exactly correct.

Before the war he was owned by the father of Capt. J. A. Bale, of Rome, Ga. Captain Bale, who is now over 70 years of age, counts among his earliest recollections the figure of "Old Uncle Jerry," then an old man about the place. After the war, when the slaves were freed, the former owner of Jerry gave him a life interest in a lot of land, little thinking that the old man would live more than a few years at the utmost.

Jerry Aiken was a picturesque and original character, and we shall never again gaze on his like.

On the wall of the Inquirer sanctum hangs five pictures of "Uncle Jerry" taken about a year ago. They are part of a series taken just before Uncle Jerry was taken to the Atlanta Exposition by Mr. Jeff Stewart and associates of this city to be exhibited as the "only one of the kind on earth."

He stands before the door of his log cabin which looks almost as old as himself. His face is as black as charcoal while his hair is as white as snow. His clothing consists of a cotton shirt, a pair of pants, which he has been wearing for forty years, and a string serves as suspenders. By his side is his constant companion -- a very large and snarling coon.

The pictures show very few wrinkles on the old man's face and he has a look of peace and happiness which passeth all understanding. Perhaps no man has lived on the earth since the day of Methuselah who has experienced more joy and contentment and fewer troubles and trials than this simple negro who was a slaves for the major portion of his life.

The old man was tenderly cared for during his last days and wanted for nothing. He was buried on Tuesday and many of his friends, both white and black, attended the funeral exercizes.

Peace to his ashes. The (Calhoun County, Ala.) Weekly Times, 28 May 1896, p.5, c. 1.

From Calhoun County newspaper obituary transcriptions at Calhoun County AlGenWeb. Thanks to Gail Harris, peaches[delete]@strato.net

The Facts ...

Summary. A capable researcher, Les Tate, informed us in October 2002 that Jerry was on the 1860 slave schedule, when he was with John Akin, as age 54, thus he was born 1806. The war referred to in the text on the back of the photograph would have been the War of 1812, not the Revolution. Jerry was prematurely grey and perhaps somewhat handicapped, because he was only 39 when he went from John Bale to John Akin. When the pictures was taken he would have been about 90.

Discussion of the history of Jerry Akin and the named individuals, by Les Tate. First a correction. Jerry Akin is listed on page 426 of the 1880 Cherokee Co Census, not 436 as I'd previously stated. The pages quoted about other Akin's in that message also need to be dropped by 10 page numbers (they now become 426-B and 427).

The 1895 newspaper article states (appproximately) "Jerry lived with John Akins from 1845 and remained there during and after the Civil War until Mr. and Mrs. Akin died. Then he and a woman named Rose went to live with Capt John Davis. After Rose died, her daughter Maria took care of him." As shown further below, John Akins died in 1868 and his wife Rebecca died in 1880.

In the 1860 Slave Schedule, part 2, page 378-B, John T. Akin has only two slaves: a 54 year old male and an 17 y old female. Based on the info presented thus far, this puts Jerry's birthyear at 1806. This would make him about 6 to 8 in the period 1812 to 1814 when he was then "big enough to saddle a horse and wait on old marster" and "saw the British warships...in the James River" and "waited on soldiers in Richmond." This means that Jerry witnessed the War of 1812 (which lasted for two years), not the Revolutionary War. "Old Marster" may well have been in the Revolutionary War since it lasted from 1776 to 1783.

Spencer Roane was born in 1762 but I find no record of his military service on the internet and Roane would have been too old to participate in the War of 1812, plus Roane was a judge at the time, too. [The reference Jerry makes to seeing General George Washington in a fancy uniform on a white horse is puzzling since Washington died in 1799; he may be referring to another general in the War of 1812.] I'm not a historian, however I found reference to a skirmish in Norfolk VA in 22 June 1813, but nothing about Richmond although it is quite reasonable there were British ships there.

In searching Revolutionary War records and lists, I find a Christopher Roane, but no Spencer Roane/Roan/Rone. Roane, Christopher (Va). Captain of a Virginia State Regiment, 1777 to 1782.

Also I found a in list of War of 1812 soldiers from VA. I can't see Judge Spencer Roane as a private at his age and with his education.



Roane apparently graduated from William and Mary College (I found a webpage stating he was one of the founding members of Phi Beta Kappa there though the date of 1776 is unlikely... He married Anne Henry, daughter of Patrick Henry. I don't find any info about Roane's education anywhere else, other than "He studied the law and was appointed a judge of the Virginia general court in 1789 and a judge of the Virginia court of errors in 1794. He was appointed a justice of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals in 1795 and served in that office until his death in 1822. He was a member of the commission that helped in the establishment of the University of Virginia in 1819. He died on September 4, 1822." Thomas Jefferson corresponded with Spencer Roane in 1819.
Further notes | Spencer Roane at Wikipedia.
Jerry would have been sold off to Georgia about 1822-1823 following Spencer Roane's death.

More info on Roane (capitalization for emphasis is the Webmaster's) from: http://www.lib.unc.edu/mss/inv/r/Ruffin,Frank_G. Ruffin's uncle, Albert G. Ruffin (d. 1829), was the son of William (d. 1825) and Margaret Ruffin of Raleigh, N.C. He had three brothers, William H., Robert R., and A. R. Ruffin. Early in his career, Ruffin sought opportunity in the Mississippi Territory, where he opened a law practice in Winchester in the spring of 1818. He remained there until 1821, when he moved to St. Stephens in the new Alabama Territory. Ruffin left ALABAMA upon his marriage in the spring of 1825 to Eliza Roane of Richmond and took up planting at SPRING GARDEN, her plantation near Hanover Town in Hanover County, Virginia. He planted corn, wheat, and cotton and engaged in local politics until his death in 1829. Albert and Eliza had one son, Spencer (1826-1831). After her husband's death, Eliza moved with Spencer to her Newcastle estate in Hanover County and continued planting. Her brother, W. H. Roane, moved to Spring Garden.

Eliza and W. H. Roane were the children of Spencer Roane (1762-1822), planter, politician, and judge of Hanover County, Va., and Elizabeth Hoskins Roane (d. 1825). Judge Spencer was educated at the College of William and Mary, where he studied law. Admitted to the bar in 1782, he became a state representative and senator, an advisor to Governor Patrick Henry, and a judge in the General Court and State Supreme Court of Appeals. A staunch Anti-Federalist, he started the Richmond Enquirer in 1804 as a vehicle for his political views. ...

Series 2 (1817-April 1829) consists of correspondence and legal and financial papers pertaining to Albert Ruffin's law practices in Mississippi and Alabama and to his plantation affairs in Hanover County, Va. Scattered ESTATE papers appear for his father, William Ruffin; his father-in-law, Spencer Roane; and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Elizabeth Hoskins Roane. Financial and legal items include correspondence, deeds, bonds, receipts, court petitions, warrants, pleas, court dockets, accounts, and SLAVE BILLS OF SALE. ...

Financial and legal papers, including deeds, legal agreements, court documents, land plats, correspondence, receipts, bonds, and lawyer's accounts pertaining to Spencer Roane's purchase of land in Hanover County, Virginia, near the town of Newcastle. ...

The above supportsJerry's claim of being born "near Newcastle", however it is evident that Roane was already a father-in-law to Ruffin by that time and thus would be known as "old marster". In 1812, Roane would have been 50 years old.

1799 -- May 22: Anne Henry Roane died at the home of her sister, Betsey Henry Aylett, in King William County. She was survived by her husband, Spencer Roane, and six children.

The Virginia Herald and Fredericksburg Advertiser October 30, 1788 1:3

For sale, The seat and tract of land whereon I now live, in Essex County, two miles from the town of Tappahannock, known by the name of Mount Clement. It contains 315 acres, great part of which is fertile flat land, and about 30 acres thereof is good marsh, bounded by Hodkins' Creek. The buildings on this land are very valuable and consist of a large two story brick dwelling house, with genteel and necessary offices. The situation is agreeable, affording an extensive view of the adjacent town, river, and country. Independent of its advantages as a farm, this place is a desirable stand for a professional man, such as a physician or lawyer; insomuch as nothing but its remoteness from my other lands, and the occasion I have for money, could induce me to sell it. It may be purchased very cheap for cash, tobacco, public securities, or NEGROES, and if in cash or tobacco, credit may be had for part. Apply to me on the premises, or during the sitting of the Assembly in Richmond. Spencer Roane. Reference. The above indicates Jerry could have been part of the payment for Roane's Essex County plantation.

...Spencer Roane (of Spring Garden, Hanover County, Virginia)... [hmmm, kinda makes you wonder where Spring Garden in Cherokee County got its name]

In 1845 when Jerry first came to the Akin household, he would have been 39. It may be that he was prematurely gray and not actually all that old, but may have seemed old if he was partially crippled in his legs as the photo at the Cherokee genweb website seems to indicate. One of the men in the newspaper article states he plowed in a field adjoining the one Jerry was working in (around 1845) and Jerry was then white-headed. These physical conditions might also explain his low purchase price in 1845 and why he didn't do much during the war (except, as shown below, maybe help Mr Akin make wagons and grow corn for sale to the Confederacy). In the 1880 census, where Jerry is listed as 100, he would actually be 74 and in 1895 at the time of the article he would be 99, which is still a respectable age for anyone! I noticed while looking at the 1860 slave schedule a woman slave at one plantation was listed as being 120, which indicates old slaves may have sometimes overestimated their age to get easier work assignments and generally be treated better by "white folks". Besides if anyone lives long enough, there are fewer people to dispute your personal history.

The 17 year old female slave listed in John Akin's home might be Rose. Did Rose and Jerry have children? Possibly. Although Maria is listed as Jerry's granddaughter and the two other children there are listed as his grandchildren in 1880, Maria is 18, which indicates she was born about 1862 when Jerry and Rose (if that was her at the Akin's) were together. However it may be that Rose was an older woman who Jerry knew and was romantically involved with, and they went with Rose's children to live at "Capt. John Davis" after the Akins died.

Was Davis somehow related to John Akin (or Akins)? I can find no evidence of a relationship among John Akin's children and John Davis is too common a name to locate with certainty without additional info...or perhaps a census index.

Regarding John Akin and wife Rebecca is this: "ROBERT ALEXANDER MCCAGHREN was born July 31, 1835 in Pleasant Gap, Alabama, and died March 20, 1897 in Spring Garden, Cherokee County, Alabama. He married RACHEL AKINS, daughter of JOHN AKINS and REBECCA STEWART. She was born November 14, 1831 in Morgan County, Georgia, and died March 24, 1910 in Spring Garden, Cherokee County, Alabama."

Using McCaghren's info I found further info on John Thomas Akin and wife Rebecca Stewart. Akin was a pvt in the SC militia in War of 1812, made wagons and sold corn to Confederacy, and died in 1868. Rebecca died in 1880, apparently shortly after the census where she is listed at age 80 and was living with two daughters (1880, page 427). Both John and Rebecca are buried at the Carmel Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Cherokee Co, AL.

Ref. 1
Ref. 2
Ref. 3

Les Tate

What are the oldest recorded ages?

A 2010 Wikipedia article reveals the documented five oldest people ever were aged 122, 120, 119, 117, 117. Reaching the age of 136 is an extraordinary claim that requires extraordinary proof. None has surfaced.


Cherokee County Veterans Group Picture, ca. 1900 (314kb)

The Spring Garden Cotton Gin ca.1900



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Last updatedTuesday, 24-Jan-2017 14:32:41 EST