M. Sampson, African-American Sheriff Deputy, Justice of the Peace, Voter
Registrar in Lafayette and Madison counties; hanged circa 1883
The story of my great-grandfather, Morris M. Sampson, has lurked somewhere in the shadows of my mind since I was a little girl. I knew little about him except that he bore strong Native American and Caucasian features, but identified himself as a black man. He also was said to be “high” sheriff of Madison County, which I recall as being a source of great pride for my father.
It is unclear the circumstances that brought Morris Sampson from his birthplace in North Carolina to Florida, and for a black man born in 1834, that may forever be a mystery.
Was he a slave? Had he been a member of one of several free black families in Cumberland County who boarded a wagon train in the 1850’s and migrated to Ohio, educating themselves at Oberlin, then returning south as preachers, teachers and political leaders?
Had he served in the Civil War, then changed his name as many of his contemporaries were known to have done?
What is certain is that at age 33, Morris ended up in Lafayette County where records indicate that he was voter registrar in 1867 to 1868. (David Montgomery was sheriff from 1868 to 1873). In the 1870 census, his job is listed as “County Officer” in Madison. I have a record of him taking the oath for Justice of the Peace in Madison County on October 12, 1874. Congressional records confirm that he was a sheriff deputy working alongside Sheriff David Montgomery, a black man appointed by Gov. Harrison Reed during Reconstruction, a time when the area’s lawlessness was receiving national attention. Morris and his wife, Amanda Tookes, started a family. Their son, Preston, was my grandfather.
Florida records document a tumultuous time when Morris and Montgomery received death threats almost daily. In a report to the United States Congress in 1872, Sheriff Montgomery testifies that his men made more than 500 arrests in three years, with more than 63 court cases referenced there. A newspaper reported that the sheriff barely escaped death when armed “desperados” ambushed him in the woods. If my grandfather was indeed a “high” sheriff, there is no record of it.
But there is another record that I cannot find – it has to do with one horrible night, sometime between 1882 and 1885, when Morris Sampson was lynched in the back woods of Madison County. There is no record of his death or his burial, no memorial of a life lived with vision and passion and courage in the face of incredible odds. His daughter, Charity, was 17 at the time and it was she who passed the story down to her nephew (my father).
A year or so after Morris died, Charity married a Frenchman and moved to Jacksonville. My great-grandmother Amanda and the other children left soon thereafter and my family’s connection to Madison came to a bitter end.
In the years that followed, the Sampson family began to splinter and scatter. Some may have passed for white and disappeared in search of a less brutal life. Others died early, leaving their children to fend for themselves.
Amanda Tookes Sampson
In 1885, Amanda is listed on the Florida census in Madison as a young widow and mother of children that range from 22 to four years old. Charity, 22; Dennis, 16; Ida, 12, Henry Walter, 9; Preston, 8; and Johnnie Morris, 4. Daisy is not included in the household.
It is likely that Amanda remarried, but there is no record of a marriage. I do not know if or when Amanda returned to Florida.
Soon after Morris’ death, circa 1883, Charity marries Ambrose Reache, a shoemaker; the son of French and Mexican immigrants. Her baby brother, Johnnie Morris, is with them in Jacksonville in 1885.
By 1889, Charity’s siblings are as follows: Ida, 16; Henry Walter, 13; Preston, 12; and Johnnie Morris, 8. Amanda would have been 43 years old. An “Amanda Sampson” is listed in the 1889 Jacksonville telephone directory.
Charity and Ambrose Bonnavinci Reache settle in LaVilla, a mecca of African-American culture, and Ambrose opens a shoe repair shop on the beach with a partner, Aaron T. Hopkins. In the next decade, Ambrose and Charity would have at least six children: Rudolph Ennasha Reache (b:1891); Marie (b:1893); Albert (b:1895); Rosa (b:1897); Napoleon (b:1898); Larletta (b:circa 1901). (During the same time, her brother Preston, nine years her junior, gets married to Leonora Cooke and starts a family.)
But 1915 ushers in challenge and tragedy for Charity. Her oldest son, Rudolph (Rudy), at age 24, gets a young girl pregnant and quickly moves to Daytona Beach where he marries a woman identified only as K.B. Watson, leaving his mother to deal with the scandal.
It gets worse when Charity’s brother, Preston, and his wife, Leonora, both only 38 years old, die four months apart, she from tuberculosis and Preston from chronic alcoholism. They have four children (Charlie (b:1898); Eloise (b:1900); Marechalneal (b:1905); Preston (b:1906)) who are farmed out between Charity and her brothers.
Although Charity’s youngest nephew (my father), Preston Jr., lives with Great-Uncle Henry Walter, he spends a lot of time at Charity’s house where he learns a little bit of French and Spanish from Uncle Reache and about the lynching of Morris M. Sampson. Preston Jr. and his cousins are close in age and they enjoy a close relationship.
By 1916, her son, Albert, is in Cincinnati, Ohio (Hamilton) where he married Mary Riner Murphy (b: 1895 KY) on September 5, 1916. Her parents are Dudley Murphy and Millie Butter.
By 1917-18, Albert has registered for the WWI draft in Louisville, KY. He lives at 615 Lampton Street; occupation: shoemaker; employer: racetrack; says he supports father, mother and wife.
Charity’s daughter, Larletter Reache, married Earl Berry on March 26, 1919 in Duval County. There is another
record that says Larletter Reache married another man also (I gotta find that record) Larletta (Curry) served as informant on Charity’s death certificate and says she lived in Tampa.
By the 1920’s, most of Charity’s children are grown. Albert is living with wife, Mary Riner Murphy, in Louisville, Kentucky.
Larletter married Earl Berry or Curry on March 26, 1919 in Duval County and has possibly moved to Orlando, Tampa or Daytona.
Rudolph, or Rudy as he is called, is living in Daytona Beach.
Marie C. Reache (b:1894) marries George B. Jones (b:1892) on April 16, 1921, in Wayne, Michigan. Records indicate groom’s parents are A.B. Reache and Annie C. Cox. (I don’t know what this means).
It is not clear where Rosa (23) and Marie are. Both are likely married and/or out of state.
Charity’s youngest brother whom she raised, Johnnie Morris, and his wife, Hattie Adger, live comfortably at 1636 East 26th Street where they operate a neighborhood grocery store. Charity’s nieces, Marechalniel and Eloise, get married and both move to Tampa.
But tragedy won’t leave Charity alone. In less than two years, she loses two sons. Napoleon at age 23 in 1921, and Rudy in 1923 from blood poisoning, a complication of a minor surgery. While still reeling from grief of her children, her brother, Henry Walter kills his wife by setting fire to her car in July 1927. Henry Walter was sentenced with life in prison on March 24, 1928. He is listed in the 1930 census at Raiford penitentiary.
By the 1940’s, Charity is aging and developing health problems, and on April 14, 1942, she experiences one final loss. The brother she raised, Johnnie Morris Sampson, who was just an infant when Morris Sampson was hanged in Madison County, died from a stroke. Her brother, Henry Walter, got out of prison at little more than a month later, on May 31, 1942. Her younger brother Preston enlists in the army. It is hard to say how Charity dealt those two final events.
On November 13, 1943, Charity passes away from kidney disease in Tampa at the home of her daughter, Larletta. (Note: Charity’s death certificate indicates that she was born in Monticello, Florida, and her mother, Amanda, was from Thomasville, Georgia. Oddly, it also lists her father as “Victor” Sampson, which may be Larletta’s error)
There is a Dennis Sampson, a waiter at 400 Beaver, listed in the 1888 Jacksonville City Directory. In the 1899-1901 City Directory, he is listed as a waiter at 421 W. Adams.
On the 1900 Thomasville, Georgia, census, I found a Daisy Hughs in the household of Amanda Sampson, widow, and an Ida Bailey.
On the 1900 Thomasville, Georgia, census, I found a Daisy Hughs in the household of Amanda Sampson, widow, and an Ida Bailey. H/H is Amanda Sampson, widow. Daisy is listed as daughter and married. Daisy apparently has a daughter named Anna Hughs born circa 1890, and Ida Bailey is listed as “roomer.”
Henry Walter was about six years old when his father, Morris Sampson, died. When the family moved to Jacksonville, Henry Walter grew up and became a barber and worked in a hotel. He married a woman named Lizzie from Quitman, Georgia, who helped him raise his nephew, Preston.
From all accounts, the household was rather volatile and eventually, in the summer of 1927, Henry Walter, at age 49, killed his wife by setting her car on fire. She died at the scene.
Record’s show that he was sentenced to Life on March 24, 1928. His name appears on the 1930 census at Raiford Penitentiary. He was paroled 14 years later on May 31, 1942.
Preston was just about five years old when Morris died. At some point after the family left Madison, he wound up in Fulton County, Georgia, where he was married in 1896 to Leonora Cook, a petite young woman from Winnsboro, South Carolina. From her appearance, she could have been white, or mixed with some other ethnic group. Family members who knew her described her as “depressed” and one with “champagne tastes.” She had a brother, Joe Howard Cook, who was born circa 1880. According to Joe Howard’s death certificate, he and Leonora’s parents were Jim Cook and Elizabeth Webb, both from Fairfield County, South Carolina.
Preston and Leonora have four children: Charles W. Sampson (b: 1897); Eloise Elizabeth (b:1900); Marechalneil (b:circa 1905); and my father, Preston II (b: circa 1906).
In 1910, Preston and Leonora shared their home with Preston’s brother, Johnnie Morris, and his bride of one year, Hattie Adger of Satsuma, Florida.
In the summer of 1915, Leonora died from tuberculosis. TB is highly contagious and it is reasonable to assume that the children were removed from the home prior to her death in order to ensure their safety. The fate of their oldest son, Charles W. Sampson, is unclear. He was 17 when his parents died, so it is possible that he went out on his own. He was never heard from again.
Four months after Leonora passed, her husband Preston died - according to his death certificate, from chronic alcoholism. His death certificate sadly indicates by its lack of information that no family member was present around the time of his death to serve as informant to the coroner’s office. His emotional state may have been so bad that it is possible that he lost control and was no longer at home.
Johnnie Morris Sampson (b:circa 1882)
Johnnie Morris was only a baby when his father was hanged. Evidence suggests that he lived with Charity and her husband, Ambrose.
Johnnie grew up to be one of the more stable of Morris and Amanda’s children. He was an entrepreneur – a barber, a businessman. He registered for the 1917-18 WWI draft. He married Hattie Adger from Satsuma, Florida, in 1909. They lived for a short time in 1910 with, Preston and Leonora, but soon settled in their own home and opened a neighborhood grocery store.
Their only child was stillborn, but when Preston and Leonora died in 1915, Johnnie and Hattie became the adoptive parents of 10-year-old Marechalneil. Hattie Adger Sampson would become the mother figure for her husband’s orphaned nieces and nephew. As a matter of fact, when Marechalniel became ill, she stayed with Aunt Hattie for a year before she died in 1954.
Eloise was about 15 when her parents died. She was cared for by James and Arametta Nesbitt. I do not know their relationship to the family. James worked on the railroad. Leroy says that Eloise addressed Mrs. Nesbitt as “Granddaughter.” Eloise is listed as an insurance agent circa 1920, probably for Afro-American Life Insurance Company. This is where she probably meets Dr. Howell, whom she marries and has two sons, Jack and Leroy. They live for a time in Tampa, but eventually move to Columbus, Ohio.
Marechalniel was very young – only about 5 or 6 – when Preston and Leonora died in 1915. She went to live with Uncle Johnnie and his wife, Aunt Hattie Adger. Aunt Hattie was a big influence in Marechalniel’s life as she was the only mother that the child really knew.
Marechalniel married young – a mere 16 years old – and moved to Tampa with her new husband, John W. Daniels, listed on one census as a fireman. To the best of my knowledge, they did not have children.
Preston and Marechalniel were only a year or so apart and very young when their parents died. Preston went to live with Uncle Henry Walter and Aunt Lizzie, but apparently spent a lot of time at his Aunt Charity’s house where there were several cousins around his age. I know that he also spent time with Uncle Johnnie and Aunt Hattie. He has described his life with Uncle Walter in negative terms, but did not discuss the circumstances. Perhaps she was not very maternal and resented having to care for her husband’s nephew. Preston was about 21 years old when Uncle Walter killed Lizzie in 1927. He was not very close to her and I don’t think that he was emotionally wounded by the murder.
Preston has described himself as quite the rascal, a ladies man who enjoyed the nightlife and all of the tawdry elements that go along with the lifestyle.
In 1942, he enlisted in the army at age 36 and was stationed at Camp Blanding. This is the same year that Uncle Johnnie dies from a stroke. Aunt Charity dies a year later in 1943.
When the war ended in 1945, Cpl. Preston Sampson, my father, is listed on the Hillsborough County census as living with his sister, Eloise, and her family.
Rosa and Marie Reache remain a mystery. It has been the pattern of the Reache family to assimilate into the Caucasian race, so it would not be a surprise if they went to Pensacola, then on to Louisiana, and eventually ended up in California as did so many of their “almost-white” cousins on their father’s (Ambrose Reache) side.
Born October 1892 in Jacksonville. Married at 24 years old on April 5, 1926 in Hillsborough, Florida, to Ernesto Alfonso.
Another or the same Marie C. Reache (27), born 1894 Florida, married George B. Jones (29) (b:1892 FL) in Wayne, Michigan on April 16, 1921. Grooms parents were listed as Ambrose Jones and Annie C. Cox. Bride’s parents were listed as Albert B. and Mary B. Reache).
Larletta is the only one of Charity’s daughters who I can put my finger on. She and my father, Preston, were first cousins and were closest in age. I know that Larletta was married because her name was Larletta Curry when she served as informant on her mother (Charity’s) death certificate in 1943.
I imagine that Charity’s oldest son was extremely handsome with exotic features a mix of French/African/Mexican blood.In 1915, Rudy and a young woman had a baby. When the child grew up, he named his daughter after Rudy’s sister Larletta.
Rudy eventually moved to Daytona Beach and got involved with a woman known only as K.B. Watson. She shows up on a marriage record and also as informant on his death certificate. Rudy died of blood poisoning after minor surgery in 1923. It is not known if Rudy had children with K.B. Watson.
Albert was born circa January 30, 1885 in Jacksonville, FL. By 1916, he has moved to Cincinnati, Ohio (Hamilton). There, he marries Mary Riner Murphy (b: 1895 KY) on September 5, 1916. (Marriage Cert says his parents are A.B. Reache and Mary C. Sampson. The bride’s parents are Dudley Murphy and Millie Butter / Butler)
By 1917-18, he has registered for the WWI draft in Louisville, KY. He lives at 615 Lampton Street; like his father, Ambrose, he was a shoemaker. He was employed at a racetrack; says he supports father, mother and wife. In 1920, Albert and Mary live in Jefferson, Kentucky.
shared by: Joyce Andrea Sampson
Page updated: February 1, 2013