28 Mar

“What happened to John Roy’s brother?”

I get that question a lot after talking with students about — and reading to them — The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch. And I guess I should have anticipated that question, considering that William figures prominently in the book’s first few pages, not only in my text but also in Don Tate’s art:

But the answer I’ve had for that question must be as unsatisfying as they come: “I don’t know.”

A slightly more elaborate answer would be, “I never did learn much, and it’s been long ago enough since I researched this book that I’ve had time to forget a lot of things I knew.” Which, let’s face it, isn’t any more satisfying to a kid with a burning — and, at least to them, obvious — question.

So, I’ve dug back into some of my research materials, and here’s what I can tell you about William Lynch.

John Roy Lynch’s autobiography, Reminiscences of an Active Life, mentions William by name only three times.

After his father’s death, John Roy Lynch recounts an initial conversation between his mother, Catherine, and the family’s new owner, Alfred Vidal Davis, at Tacony Plantation. In that conversation, Davis tells Catherine, “Upon my return I shall have you and your children live with me and my family — you to be one of our housemaids and your oldest boy, William, to be a dining-room servant, and the other boy, John, I shall take for my own valet.”

In Natchez after the family’s emancipation, John Roy writes, “My brother had secured employment at army headquarters, as an attendant upon General W. Q. Gresham, the general in command of the Union troops there at that time. … My mother was an excellent cook and in that capacity she frequently earned a good sum of money in the course of a month, but the employment was not continuous and permanent, hence the income from that source was uncertain and doubtful. It was absolutely necessary, therefore, that my brother and I should do something to assist in meeting the expense of the home.”

The other reference is in historian John Hope Franklin’s introduction to the book, when discussing John Roy Lynch’s real-estate transactions in the Natchez area between 1869 and 1905: “Lynch’s brother, William, was involved in some of the transactions and perhaps served as his attorney and business manager.” A footnote explains further, “In several of the transactions William Lynch is the grantor, the ‘agent and attorney’ for John R. Lynch, or the plantation lessor.”

I don’t see a US Census record for William Lynch after this one from 1880, in which he was listed as an unmarried, 36-year-old planter in Natchez.

But if I were going to research The Amazing Age of John Roy Lynch all over again, knowing how curious many readers are about William Lynch, I would want to know how far his trail extends beyond 1880. My first step would be to spend some time with those property purchase and sale records. And for that, I would start with the office of the chancery clerk in Adams County, Mississippi.

If any student projects result from that tip, I’d love to hear what they find.

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