Our local genealogy society is helping to mark the birthplace of a former slave, who left our community a legacy of language and grace and who, records say, served in the Union Army during the Civil War.
On Sunday, Oct. 21, at 2 p.m. the Meramec Valley Genealogical and Historical Society (MVGHS) will dedicate a stone monument marking the gravesite of King William and Mary Summer Adams in Resurrection Hill Cemetery.
Pacific cemetery sexton Alan Bruns helped the society locate the unmarked graves. King William purchased the four-grave plot in 1911 when Mary died. Their daughter Nellie is also buried there. King William died in 1929 and was buried next to his wife. No permanent marker was ever placed at the gravesite.
MVGHS members researched King Adams, his wife and children for more than five years. In recent years, our search was aided when technology placed information such as federal census and state death records on the Internet. Two years ago the society determined to place a marker on the couple’s graves.
The current elected officials, patrons at the 2011 Independence Day celebration and the members of our society, contributed the funds to purchase the gravestone — a 3-foot natural granite stone with a side sliced and polished for carving.
King William and Mary were both born in 1847. Because of the complexity of President Abraham Lincoln’s approach to the Emancipation Proclamation and freeing the slaves, Missouri slaves were not freed until the end of the Civil War in 1865. Sometime after that King William and Mary came to Pacific and raised their family here.
They named their first son John Quincy Adams. They would have 10 more children who grew up in Pacific and attended the B.F. Allen School.
My introduction to this intriguing man, who treasured his freedom, revered his family and spoke like a balladeer, came about 15 years ago when Hilda Bandermann took me to the Pacific Care Center and introduced me to Ella Miller, King William Adams’ granddaughter.
“Ella, I have someone I want you to meet,” Hilda said. “I think she’ll write your story.”
“Nobody ever wrote my story before,” said Ella, who was 98 at the time. Over the next three years, I interviewed Ella half a dozen times.
She was so natural and vivacious in her speech that she got me into a little stir of trouble once. She used the N word. She talked about the Resurrection Hill Cemetery, situated in a little hollow north of Old Town, which the city of Pacific’s deed officially calls the Pacific Colored Cemetery.
Ella talked about her family members being buried. “It used to be called N Hollow,” she said. I knew what a wildfire that word could cause so I wrote that they were buried in The Hollow north of town. Ella sent for me and gave me a good talking to about writing history as it really occurred. I wrote another column containing her concerns. I had no idea what my publisher, Mr. Miller, would do with that, but when the paper came out, he has acceded to her wishes.
“Well that’s exactly right,” she said. “That’s part of my history.”
I didn’t think of starting a document search on the family during all these conversations, I just was captivated by Ella and her stories of a grandfather, who had been a slave, and who taught her the importance of hard work, respect for herself and others — and above all — the value of good education.
“People will always judge you by how you speak,” King Adams told his grandchildren. Ella was the second grandchild of a large family and she got special treatment.
“If you speak good language, people will respect you,” Ella recalled him saying. And respect her they did. During her stay at the care center, Ella Adams Villery Miller received more visitors than any other resident.
At her 100th birthday party, the care center dining room overflowed with people, both black and white, who had come to help her celebrate. It was a telling outcome of a life well lived, due largely, she said, to a grandfather, “who always spoke so nice with us children.”
Even though it appears that King William served in the Union Army during the Civil War, the genealogy society is marking his grave as that of a gentleman who taught his gentle ways to his family.
“So we see this man as a teacher,” said Ruth Muehler, MVGHS vice president. “And our community is better for it.”
The former slave and his growing family lived in Pacific during the railroad boom when the white families were building fine house with big yards. King William cut wood and did yard work to raise his children. Ella said he had a fine hand with flowers.
When he was not working, he always dressed in a suit, white pressed shirt and tie when he left his home. It was a habit that Ella would always follow.
King William Adams never owned his own home, but he purchased a lot on South First Street that he donated to the First Baptist Church, which he attended. For the next 100 years, he, his sons and grandchildren, would support the church. It’s still there today, although now it’s named Historic Baptist Church. Jimmy Perkins is the pastor.
King Adams died in the home of his son Jesse. Ella and her cousin Bernice, the oldest granddaughter, were at this bedside.
Recently we came across the 1890 Veterans Schedule, which says King Adams served as a private in Missouri Company F.
Now with the help of others, the MVGHS will dedicate a stone marker identifying the resting place of former slaves who graced our community.
Three of King Adams great-grandchildren, who are Pacific residents Elnora Rose, Emma Jean Moore and Pacific Mayor Herbert Adams, talked with MVGHS members about the project to recognize their ancestor.
“I’m glad that his part in history will be remembered,” Emma Moore said. “Even his family didn’t know about him.”
Mayor Herb Adams, who inherited the family gift of storytelling, said he knew little of the man who taught his children and grandchildren that speaking well would help them forge a happy life.
“I’m proud to see this man and his story get out,” Herb Adams said. “Our family has had a good life here, my grandchildren are now the sixth generation in this place.”
Last year, the MVGHS produced a video of local families telling the stories of their families’ part in the Civil War. Now we are adding another page of local history by creating a permanent marker to a leader in the black history of our community.
The public is invited to the dedication at 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at Resurrection Hill Cemetery, Highway OO, Pacific.
Pauline Masson can be reached at 314-805-9800 or firstname.lastname@example.org.